On the campus end of State Street, the coffeehouses are hubs of hubbub, filled with students juggling laptops and textbooks. On the Capitol end, you can grab a light lunch and actually relax at Michelangelo's, 114 State Street.
A few years back I liked to stop at Michelangelo's for one of their wraps, a super-stuffed tortilla filled with rice, spinach, hummus and spicy peppers. Unlike many veggie wraps, it wasn't just a side salad indifferently tossed into a flour tortilla. Sadly, the wraps have disappeared from Michelangelo's glass cases, but the shop's flatbread sandwiches are still keepers.
Sandwiches are snack- or lunch-sized -- large enough to keep you going but not bog you down in the middle of the day -- and made with fresh flatbread from State Street's Kabul restaurant. Ask for the sandwich warmed and it doesn't get nuked in a microwave but heated on a panini-style grill. The pleasant basil pesto, tomato and cheese sandwich transitioned from plain and cellophane-wrapped to luscious and melty during its brief sojourn on the grill. At $4.75, I wouldn't call it a rock-bottom bargain, but you could do worse this close to the Square. Sandwiches also come in ham and provolone, turkey and provolone, hummus and vegan.
Two soups are served daily, and very often those soups are a garlic lentil (vegetarian) and a chicken white bean chili soup ($4.75); comes with a sourdough bun. The chicken chili soup was top-notch, with generous white-meat chicken pieces and a broth that wasn't muddy with beans. This may seem pricey, but it's for a generous bowl, not a skimpy cup. And practically speaking, soup bargains downtown are ever-harder to find since the demise of Luigi's.
Michelangelo's offers a long list of black, green, herbal and white teas. In addition to the usual coffees, Michelangelo's has a raft of specialty drinks like the almond joy mocha ($3.75/$4.50) or the caramel macchiato ($4.25); fruit smoothies ($4.50) and cremosas (Italian soda with your choice of syrup from the universe of Torani bottles from behind the bar and a dash of cream, $2.50). On a recent visit I had a large Earl Grey ($1.90), which was okay as tea but surprisingly un-Earl-Grey-like.
Michelangelo's spot next to the Children's Museum means it gets kid-and-caregiver traffic, and the bakery case, with cookies, brownies, muffins, Danish, scones, and cheesecake (some from Peoples Bakery and La Brioche) should prove either a terrible temptation or a welcome distraction.
The coffeehouse atmosphere is generally quiet, with a brightly-lit back room, dim corners, comfy chairs, wi-fi access and one computer terminal for customer use. Milk and cream are kept in a cooler case, a nice touch. The "Michelangelo" theme is carried through with wall murals cribbed from the master's famous ceilings, and it is one of the more continental coffeehouses in Madison, even if the menu is more American than Italian.