I have a soft spot in my heart for the Lake Edge Shopping Center on Monona Drive and Buckeye Road. This was the first place I ever remember going shopping with my mom when I was little. There was a Kroger's grocery store, a pharmacy with a small soda fountain, and the Ben Franklin dime store.
Well, the Ben Franklin is still there, pretty much unchanged -- although it seems to carry more craft items now, and there's no longer a pet section in the back. I recommend the Ben Franklin to anyone looking for a quick blast from the past.
Combine your trip to the dime store with a visit to the forward-looking Crema Café, a coffee shop (in the spot where the old Cuppa Joe was located) with a commitment to locally-sourced ingredients.
On a recent late morning visit I had my choice of going with breakfast (waffles, egg sandwich, baked oatmeal, granola, frittata) or lunch (a choice from among a half-dozen sandwiches, two salads and soup of the day). I did something quite uncharacteristic for me and something possibly un-kosherly at odds with the "cheap eats" orientation of this column.
I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu.
This is not something I generally do, mind you. I'm more of a "second-least-expensive item on the menu" kind of person.
However, the description of the Balsamic Beef sandwich really grabbed me, a kind of transcendent version of a Philly Cheese Steak: "Lange's organic roast beef, sweet balsamic onions, white cheddar, greens, and garlic mayo on wheat." It's nice to have organic options on something besides high-end dinners, and this sandwich fulfills both the needs of the conscience and the palate. At $7.95, I guess it doesn't qualify as cheap sandwich, but stacked up against lousy sandwiches I've ordered at upscale chain restaurants for the same price, it's a good value.
I liked "The Bluebird" even more, a natural chicken-salad sandwich with blueberries, white cheddar, walnuts and greens on a "crusty batard" ($7.25). Although it went a little heavy on the mayo, I loved the blueberries and walnuts in the mix. All sandwiches are handmade at the time of ordering and come with a side of Milwaukee's El Rey tortilla chips, which are particularly spicy and crispy.
My cappuccino order also received a lot of care -- I asked for it "mellow" and it came with lots of milk foam, but with plenty of oomph underneath.
While I haven't made it back for breakfast, the menu has plenty of temptations, and Crema uses New Century Farm organic eggs. There's also a health-oriented kid's menu. The peanut butter sandwich, for instance, is made with natural peanut butter and organic strawberry preserves, and comes with apple slices and cucumber sticks, for $3.95.
The cafe seems to attract an age-diverse crowd, with thirty-somethings working on laptops, seniors reading the paper, and young mothers meeting other young mothers with their toddlers. Pretty much what you'd ask for in a neighborhood coffeehouse.
Plus, if the mounds of snow ever disappear, there's a pretty decent view of Lake Monona out the front window.