As early as age 11, Joanne Weeden was baking treats for her mother to bring to patients at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Years later, Weeden is still at it, making fresh cookies, cupcakes, dessert bars, and breads at Boomerang Bakery (the name is a tribute to her Australian roots). In addition to offering these goodies, Boomerang is dedicated to making a positive impact on the community in large and small ways, whether that means donating to local charities or teaching customers useful magic tricks such as how to make a cupcake disappear.
Only after studying wine literature, discussing options with distributors, and attending tastings do Frank and Abby Bowman decide which reds and whites will join their already massive stock of approximately 200 wine varietals. Their temperature-controlled wine cellar stores nearly 1,500 bottles, which the Bowmans—Linn Street Cafe's owners since 1996—uncork at daily meals, wine tastings, and multi-course wine-pairing dinners. Along with wine pours, their 70-seat restaurant houses contemporary American dishes crafted from sustainable seafood, local farmers' produce, and meats hand-plucked from Iowan gardens. The elegant meals continue to win raves from critics and outlets such as CityVoter, which awarded Linn Street Cafe a finalist position in its 2011 Best Romantic Restaurant competition.
The kitchen and wait staff at Los Portales cultivate a family-friendly atmosphere that is as warm and comforting as its cuisine. Mexican classics such as chimichangas, burritos, and nachos each come with a variety of protein options, from shrimp to steak. Fajitas and quesadillas join specialty menu items, including chicken mole and enchiladas suizas.
One of the best BLTs in Madison doesn't have bacon on it. Dubbed the TLT, Jennie Capellaro's meat-free version swaps out the pork for strips of tempeh, a type of cultured soy. The sandwich's smoky flavor won over the critics of 77 Square, claiming Best BLT honors in 2010. PETA named it one of the country's best vegan BLTs in 2012. And in 2013, it was named "Favorite Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant" by The Daily Page.
Jennie and her team at The Green Owl Cafe strive to similarly surprise their diners by coaxing out unexpected flavors from their vegetarian and vegan dishes. Championing freshness, they prefer to work with local suppliers, such as Blue Skies Berry Farm and Sprouting Acres. They also throw monthly raw nights, treating guests to prix fixe dinners comprised of all raw courses. Jennie matches her menu's celebration of nature with a rustic, wood-paneled interior and an outdoor patio where diners can catch the free vitamin-D capsules regularly tossed down by the sun.
Though steak, salads, and wines share the spotlight, it's the fondue pot that transforms the dining experience at Melting Pot into an interactive one. Bubbling at the center of the table, steel cauldrons steam with cheese blends such as aged cheddar and lager beer or fontina, butterkäse, and buttermilk blue. Diners spear slices of granny smith apples, artisan breads, and veggies before dipping them into the thick, creamy cheese. Chasing a wine-and-cheese-fondue pairing with salads before the main course of chicken and steak helps turn the experience into an event. Dessert can continue the dipping feast with any of nine velvety chocolate fondues and a dunkable array of strawberries, marshmallows, or chunks of cheesecake.
Egg rolls. Sweet and sour shrimp. Chicken Szechuan. JC's Sunnyside Restaurant has all the staple foods of Chinese cuisine covered. But the chefs also prepare dishes inspired by other countries in Southeast Asia, from Mongolian beef to Thai spring rolls and bubble tea. Tiny globes of tapioca rest at the bottom of the brightly colored beverage, floating there until someone slurps them up with a straw or rescues them by throwing a miniature life preserver.