Carrie Johnson: Serving kindness and honest, flavorful cooking in Verona.
Carrie Johnson said it, and it's true: This is not something most farmers do.
Johnson, owner of Jordandal Farms (along with her husband, Eric, and business partner Matthew Walter), knows most farmers don't set up a storefront for selling frozen meats 30 miles from the farm. Most farmers don't make pizzas. And most farmers definitely don't open a takeout cafe to serve lunch and dinner to locals and nearby hotel patrons.
Verona's new Jordandal Cookhouse, an unassuming walk-up at the end of a strip mall on West Verona Avenue, isn't going to be a date-night destination or a spot to have a languid dinner over bottles of wine. The Cookhouse is function over form. You order your food - all meats produced by Jordandal - and you take it somewhere to eat it. The little plastic tables out front are fine for waiting, but not meant for lingering.
And yet, this spare outpost of farm-fresh wares manages to draw something of a crowd.
The Cookhouse is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday through Saturday, and I was never alone when picking up an order. Indeed, most visits involved conversation with random strangers. It's a testament to the very appealing menu that it draws such happy diners to it.
Lunch items, sandwiches mostly, are served all day. Some are simple and kid-friendly, though not without their own twists: a grilled cheese with raw milk cheddar, or a PB&J with locally made Yumbutter. Others get a little more involved.
Take the banh mi, served on a Stalzy's Deli roll made especially for Jordandal. (It's a hoagie-length version of one of Stalzy's round rolls.) Filled with smoked sausage, ham, pork pté, radish, carrot, jalapeño, cilantro and a chili aioli - none of which are unduly forced out the sides thanks to that perfect bun - this is a triumphant sandwich that could almost make you forgive French colonialism in Vietnam.
The barbecue brisket sandwich comes on the same roll, and features an alluring charred onion mayo and pickled red cabbage. The pink smoke ring on the brisket alone is worth the price of admission.
Breadless options include chicken salad and ginger-soy chopped chicken served with broad leaves of lettuce. The rich, dark ginger-soy chicken, served warm in surprising quantity for $9, also includes a cup of glass noodles and pickled onions. With a change in soy sauce forthcoming, it will be a fully gluten-free option.
The menu changes frequently at the Cookhouse; a roast beef sandwich has already departed since my first visit. Dinner items are in shorter supply on the menu, so calling in advance to confirm availability wouldn't hurt.
But until they disappear, you could try a pair of chicken tostadas, or cornmeal-crusted, pan-fried beef liver with onions. Personally, I'd be happier having it served chopped on toast, but the hefty slabs of rich liver come atop a smooth sweet potato mash that provides needed moisture, with sautéed apples for extra sweetness.
You could wait for meatloaf with smoked mashed potatoes (soon to sub for the liver) or try the juicy pork cutlet with mustard cream sauce that's on the menu now. (The mustard cream sauce may cause plate-licking.) Or the white cheddar mac with optional ring bologna. Or try a daily special. The meaty chile maple-glazed chicken legs, as long as a dollar bill, came with ham-braised red beans and perfectly roasted squash. Other specials have tempted me equally.
It should be clear by now that there aren't a lot of delicate flavors at the Cookhouse. This menu swings for the fences.
Side dishes are available in a deli case and are included with all lunch items. The corn-tomato salad is fresh and sweet, and the deviled eggs come sans paprika. Instead, they're adorably crowned with a tiny coin of spicy house-made sausage. There are soups, baked goods and Sassy Cow ice cream (a prior arrangement with Madison's Calliope Ice Cream is on hold indefinitely). Consider the freezer case filled with pizza, bolognese sauce and whole meats, and you could shop for a week's worth of meals with every trip.
Each and every time I visited, Carrie was there taking my order and bringing the food out in a simple brown paper bag. She chatted, she joked, and before it was made clear I was a reviewer, she even threw an extra gingersnap into my order; after all, there were three adults and two cookies just wouldn't do.
This welcoming kindness and honest, flavorful cooking? This is, at least, what these farmers do.