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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fair
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Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery is for grownups
East side spot serves breakfast, lunch and everybody's favorite birthday treat
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Even by the standards of this restaurant-rich town, the near east side abounds with good places to eat, including popular breakfast spots Lazy Jane's and Monty's Blue Plate. To brave the crowds at either one on a weekend morning requires some grit and determination. Thankfully, Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery is here to accept some of the overflow and in short order has established itself as a destination in its own right.

Though it's housed in the former space of Bunky's Cafe (which has moved down Atwood a few blocks), Daisy is quite clearly not related. Where tchotchke-filled Bunky's felt like Grandma's cozy parlor, Daisy is gracefully decorated and full of light. The mismatched wooden furniture adds a dose of warmth, and a front sitting area with comfy chairs, sofa and magazines completes the relaxed feel.

Daisy serves both breakfast and lunch until early afternoon (2 p.m. on weekdays, 3 p.m. on weekends); the last few hours of each day are reserved for espresso and cupcakes. On any given morning you could get the Wisconsin Pride burger, which piles cheese curds and bacon under the bun, but most of us would be more likely to try the egg sandwich, a farmers' market rainbow of a breakfast. A fried egg, bacon, purple onion and cilantro are squeezed between slices of grilled rosemary bread with just enough cream cheese to make the sandwich transcendently good.

Daisy's breakfast specialty is the strata, a quiche-like egg dish that is served a little drier here, more like a bread pudding. Most of the stratas are savory, including a crimini and Gruyere with pesto and a daily veggie strata made with booty from the kitchen's CSA box.

If Daisy's breakfasts could be said to have a weak spot, I'd point a finger at the pancakes. Not everyone will like them, though some prefer this style of pancake: multigrain but not heavy, with a smooth, dry surface rather than a crispy, buttery one. They're healthy-tasting, filling pancakes. If you prefer something sweeter or richer, try the french toast strata.

Though I've spoken mainly of breakfast here, Daisy's no slouch on the lunch side. The cafe offers as many meatloaves as it does stratas, from a traditional ground beef and bacon to a meatless crimini-walnut combo. Sandwich options are pleasingly diverse - there's a tuna Provencal, a Mexican take on a sloppy Joe, and a Mediterranean riff that pairs edamame hummus with eggplant.

The pork loin al pastor is a winner, the slightly spicy meat tamed by warm pineapple. The portobello burger is a tantalizing mound of roasted portobello, caramelized red onions and roasted red peppers topped with a delectable Gorgonzola dressing.

Lunches are served with a choice of a pretty purple vegetable slaw or a gingery Asian edamame salad. The side dishes, it's worth noting, seemed insubstantially seasoned at first bite, but both grew on me.

Now to the real business at hand: cupcakes. You know you're in for something either great or pretentious at a self-described "cupcakery." Fortunately, there's no pretension here, and there are some moments of greatness.

Daisy's cupcakes aren't what you find at a kid's birthday party, either in flavor or in style. Each is elegantly topped with a swirl of Swiss meringue buttercream and nothing more, save for the occasional berry garnish. All of the frostings are deliciously buttery, but I found the fruit-flavored ones (which include lemon, strawberry, blueberry and raspberry) to be too delicate for my taste, without enough fruitiness to stand up to the cake.

The chocolate frosting has a serious cocoa flavor that complements both vanilla and chocolate cake, but the knock-it-out-of-the-park, bring-some-home-for-later, eat-another-one-in-the-car cupcake is the carrot with cream cheese frosting. Many cream cheese frostings are either sticky-thick or cloying; Daisy's is silky and light with a perfect balance of spice and sweetness. And if this review means they will bake them more often, I certainly won't complain.

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