THIS LOOKS A LOT DIFFERENT FROM YOUR PREVIOUS PLACE - IS THE BAKERS' ROOMS REBORN?
Yes and no. In terms of ambience, service and the holistic quality of the food, yes. It's been 36 years since we opened the Bakers' Rooms. Very few people know I was involved in that, but they come in and say this feels just like the old place.
What's different is that we're much more involved with the community. We're dedicated to buying local and pesticide-free as much as possible. In some cases we'll have to buy from organic wholesalers in winter, but our chef, Angelo Catteno, whose local background includes Sardine and the Blue Marlin, will do a lot of seasonal cooking so we can continue to use local produce year-round as much as possible.
What we really want is for people's lives to be transformed. The restaurant is designed to help people disconnect. You take away the overstimulation of computers and cellphones, surround people in beauty, serve them great food, and something magical happens. This was Joanna's idea originally, and it came back to me when I married Jackie. She's a master feng shui practitioner. She stepped into what used to be Magic Mill [an organic grocery] and created a space full of intimate nooks and crannies that looks like it might have been here a century ago.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO MOVE A RESTAURANT, LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL?
Exciting, scary, very creative and a lot of hard work. My staff was unbelievable. It took a tremendous amount of coordination, but we were only down three days during the move. But it was a long haul. We chose the space in November and began transforming it in February. It took longer and cost more than we thought, but once we'd made a few investments in the esthetic we couldn't stop - we just kept walking across the river till we got to the other side.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU?
We have the same bakery lineup we've always had, including morning buns, and we're adding organic rustic breads later this year. We do a variety of omelets, frittatas, French toast, waffles, oatmeal for breakfast, which we serve till 2 p.m.
For lunch there are pizzas and salads, three to six homemade soups that Angelo makes from scratch every day, and the best organic cheeseburger in Madison. You can choose blue, Gruyere or aged cheddar, but my favorite is the knock-your-socks-off blue, just bursting with flavor.
The dinner menu features appetizers, tapas and five main entrees. Currently we have a salmon dish, an organic fillet of beef, chicken breast in a cream sauce served over garlic mashed potatoes. But you know there are two kinds of eating - you eat to live or live to eat. Most of our menu is in the eat-to-live category, healthy and life-affirming, but the desserts are the live-to-eat part. We make our own gelatos from scratch, and some of them are exotic. Have you ever had gelato in cucumber or plum? The chocolate gelato's made with organic chocolate. It's to die for.