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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Heritage Bakery & Cafe leads with its sweets
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All the bakery items at Heritage are made from scratch in-house.
Credit:Ben Cox

I like to say that a bakery is only as good as its cupcakes. Unfortunately, on my recent visit to the Heritage Bakery & Cafe, it had already sold out of cupcakes. So I was forced to revert to my second standard for assessing bakeries: the pie. But I'm getting ahead of myself. After all, as its name implies, the Heritage Bakery & Cafe is two things, a bakery and a cafe, and I had an entire meal before I tried the pie.

Located in a strip mall on Cottage Grove Road, Heritage could be missed if you weren't looking for it. But inside, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, with bright blue tiling, clean wooden tables, and the prerequisite glass case to show off the day's pastries. The lunch menu features a reasonable selection of sandwiches and sides, including soups and quiches.

The main dishes at Heritage could have benefited from more attention to detail. The French dip, a daily special, was overpowered by its bun. A French dip sandwich is supposed to be messy, with meat pouring over the edges of a bun barely big enough to contain it. It should not only come au jus, but with an option of spicy mustard too. Here, the roast beef could have used more seasoning, and the jus as well.

A slice of the cheddar and broccoli quiche was tasty, with a layer of spicy cheddar as promised, and large pieces of broccoli. However, it was a little over-whipped and felt more like a flan than a quiche going down. A smooth quiche isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I would have liked a little more texture.

The best parts of the meal were the sides. The tomato basil soup was rich and creamy, but not too much so to overpower the basil. A side salad was fresh and light, served with balsamic vinaigrette. And the pasta salad was my favorite part of the meal. It wasn't heavy, with too much mayonnaise, but light and summery, dressed with lemon and dill, with corn as another unexpected ingredient.

Other sandwiches on the menu include the namesake chicken salad, served on wheat bread with roasted chicken, apples, dried cranberries, celery, and stone-ground mustard; and the vegetarian pepper and mozzarella sandwich, served on a ciabatta bun with roasted bell pepper, basil, fresh cheese, and sundried tomato aioli. The Cafe also serves breakfast, including a Belgian waffle, biscuits and gravy, and sourdough French toast.

Finally, there's the pie. The Heritage Bakery & Cafe offers 14 different kinds of pie, from chocolate banana cream to grasshopper mousse. The bakery menu also offers a large assortment of pastries, muffins, cookies, dessert bars, cheesecakes, and specialty items like cream puffs and eclairs.

All the bakery items at Heritage are made from scratch in-house. Denien Sramek, one of the owners, is a practiced pastry chef, so it's easy to see why the cafe items might take a back seat to the bakery items. Both Denien and her co-owner/chef husband, David, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.

When I visited, there were three pies left: strawberry, apple, and peanut butter mousse. After fogging up the glass case for several minutes, I chose the peanut butter mousse. It was as rich and decadent as it sounds, with its three layers: whipped cream, peanut butter mousse, and chocolate, each getting thicker going from top to bottom. The crust was homemade and flaky.

The Heritage Bakery & Cafe is a great value. Most menu items were between $5-$7. I enjoyed my meal, but what would draw me back were the sweets; I was left feeling that the bakery outshined the cafe.

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