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Monday, September 15, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fair
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The Madison dining scene in 2012
The year's best new restaurants were modest on the outside, exciting on the inside
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Forequarter was one of the year's most anticipated new eateries.
Credit:Eric Tadsen

Those who intently follow the Madison dining scene (that's my clumsy way of avoiding the increasingly irritating term foodie) could find satisfaction in the continuing emphasis on farm-to-table and nose-to-tail, and of-the-moment ingredients like fennel pollen appearing on menus.

The gastropub trend continued, with new entries like the Free House Pub and Craftsman Table and Tap opening in Middleton, Buck & Badger and Roast Public House on State Street.

The most highly anticipated openings of the year were from known quantities: Monroe Street's Gates & Brovi from John Gadau and Phillip Hurley, the team behind Marigold Kitchen and Sardine; and the Underground Food Collective's resurgence with the intimate Forequarter and the Underground Butcher, a storefront for local meats, house-made charcuterie and a limited lunch sandwich menu daily.

Some of the most exciting openings of the year looked like modest ventures from the outside. But their amazing flavors were far from unassuming.

Chocolaterian, a sweets-lover's paradise, transformed the historic Schenk-Huegel clothing store. 4 & 20 Bakery made its presence known (even tucked away as it is behind a Milio's, behind East High School), excelling in both sweet and savory goods. Madison's first nanobrewery, One Barrel, proved popular as well, with about three small-batch brews on tap.

A Pig in a Fur Coat, in the former La Rocca's Pizza on Willy Street, featured a tightly focused menu of mostly meats.

The ethnic front

Certainly ethnic restaurants continued to open (and close). But most of them served food in a comfortable, American-friendly vein.

Although Mexican food in Madison is arguably more authentic now that it's taken a distinct turn toward the taquería, with the closing of Cilantro there's no place to get anything more out of the ordinary than some moles. Pedro's-West, Limon, Antojitos el Toril, Tropical Cuisine, Mi San Juanito and Puerto Escondido all closed. Happy Grill and Las Islas del Mar opened. On State Street, Moe's Tavern became Diego's Mexican Bistro.

T Sushi opened. Ginza of Tokyo-East closed.

Szechuan opened on University Avenue, and China Star opened in Monona. Longtime State Street resident Nadia's closed; Soga Shabu Shabu, featuring Asian hot-pot, opened there. Suwanasak Thai opened on the far west side. Noodle Express closed; Viet House opened in its place. Monona Drive's Lee Asian Bistro closed; it's now Kim's Noodle.

Our number of Indian restaurants increased by one (no Indian restaurants closed!) with Dhaba Indian Bistro.

Madison got its first Dominican restaurant with Punta Cana, its only Colombian spot with Smiley's II, and a new pan-Latin eatery with A La Brasa. The original Cafe Costa Rica on South Butler Street closed, but moved to the space occupied by its sister restaurant, El Rincon Tico, on Willy Street. It's now called Cafe Costa Rica.

Turnaround time

The Gotham Bagels branch on South Park Street closed, with a restaurant called Giornata opening there and then closing in the space of a week. Traveler's Hearth, a game shop and coffeeshop/cafe, lasted a little longer; it opened and closed in the space of about a month, in the long-empty Blue Spoon Cafe space in Middleton. Saffron opened and closed on Allen Street.

Lane's Bakery, which had operated in Madison since 1954, closed its doors on South Park Street. However, on the bakery's final day, Chuck Lane (son of the original owner and baker, Jerry) announced he signed a new lease to reopen further south on Park at the Villager Mall.

In its temporary absence, some were comforted with the return of Dunkin' Donuts to Madison in two locations - South Gammon Road and South Park Street.

Ian's Pizza on State moved across the street to more attractive new digs in the former Children's Museum. Owner Ian Gurfield also fulfilled a dream of opening a wood-fired pizzeria with S2pizzabar. It's not strictly Neopolitan, but a Wisco version of it. For true Neopolitan, Naples 15 opened in the 15 N. Butler space most recently occupied by Las Cazuelas, with a major overhaul of the wood oven.

Open and shut

During road construction on University Avenue, Shish Cafe closed. While its sister restaurant Palmyra in Middleton experienced some closures over the course of the year, it's still up and running.

Fitchburg's Cafe Continental closed; Veranda, operated by members of the same Schiavo family, opened in its place.

In Westport, Deli Delicious closed, but Atwood Avenue favorite Bunky's has opened a catering and deli takeout there. Vasilis' Take Five Vittles and Vices opened in the former Corner Store on Willy Street.

Salad Creations opened on Monona Drive, Wings Over Madison opened on University Avenue, and Dickie's Barbecue Pit opened near East Towne. House of Brews opened a taproom. Ocean Grill closed; DLUX opened. Full of Bull moved from Blair Street to State Street. Nettie's Cafe opened on Greenway Cross.

Jordandal Cookhouse, a takeout deli in Verona, features local products, many of which come from the Jordandal farm.

Bella Vita, Surge Delivery Cafe, Talula, Tapas Rias, and Logan's Madtown all closed.

Cartlandia

The food cart Surco Peruvian aims to launch a brick-and-mortar version in the old Antojitos, but renovation is still under way. JD's opened a storefront in the former Limon; and Banzo continues to renovate its kitchen space for dine-in service.

Least-expected revival

There's been a lot of bubble tea this year. A Library Mall food cart, the Tea Garden, featured the sweet bev; then the Steepery Tea Bar on State Street opened (in the former Taste of Tibet), with bubble teas holding pride of place on the menu. Then Dragon I, a noodle eatery, opened right next door (in the former Chin's Asia Fresh), with a wide selection of bubble teas and smoothies.

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