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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Rosie's Coffee Bar and Bakery scores with breakfast, fanciful cupcakes
More than a doughnut and a drink
The formidable biscuit-based breakfast sandwich.
Credit:Laura Zastrow

Rosie's Coffee Bar and Bakery, which opened a little over four months ago in the former Kim's Noodle space, is an unexpectedly modern operation. Coffee (from JBC Coffee Roasters) is available brewed, yes, but also in pour-over, cold-process and siphon preparations. The point-of-sale system is Leaf, a tablet-powered system sort of like Square on steroids. And when you ask for hot sauce with your biscuits and gravy, you get Sriracha, not Crystal -- though frankly, more's the pity.

What Rosie's isn't is a no-frills doughnut shop, or a lo-fi spot to grab a cup of diner coffee at 9 p.m. The doughnuts here are pretty, or at least pretty messy. The coffee bar is almost a separate entity altogether, though you can order from either counter. The hours are limited to first-shift only, and if you visit after four in the afternoon or so, you're likely to be greeted with some expression of surprise or delight that anyone's there at all at that time of day.

But even that little bit of awkwardness illustrates one of Rosie's strengths: incredibly friendly staff. And it's a big crew, so the odds would dictate that there'd be at least one grump in the group. My experience says otherwise. Everyone I encountered was warm, accommodating and gracious.

As the day goes on, and doughnuts disappear, labels occasionally get misplaced. You'll see something pretty -- a cake doughnut with multicolored glaze, or a caramelly-looking raised doughnut with chopped nuts -- but without signage, who knows? Owner Coz Skaife and company are knowledgeable and at the ready.

The multicolored glaze is just plainly sweet window-dressing for a lackluster cake doughnut. But that one with the nuts is a peanut butter and jelly doughnut. It's an unholy mess, and the yeast doughnut is a bit too chewy. But the peanutty icing sticks to the roof of your mouth, and the jam is bright and fruity. It's clumsy, but it's fun.

My favorite sweet was the unabashedly ridiculous Fun-ghetti cupcake. Frosting extruded to look like spaghetti and a Ferrero Rocher "meatball" covered in strawberry "sauce" sat atop a moist and rich chocolate cupcake.

Step around the sweets case to see the full savory menu, if you're so inclined. The savory baked goods demonstrate where Rosie's can stake out its place in this bakery-cafe triangle laid atop Monona Drive and Cottage Grove Road. (From Rosie's to Heritage Bakery and Cafe, I count five.)

I never saw biscuits for sale individually, but with scrambled egg and bacon (generous in the case of the former, stingy in the latter), you have a formidable breakfast sandwich. Biscuits and gravy? It's already pushing into my top three citywide. Sriracha really isn't a complementary flavor, though. Breakfast is indeed available every morning that Rosie's is open (though its menu isn't included on the website).

The quality of lunch at Rosie's runs the gamut. Chicken salad on croissant is much tidier than expected for that type of sandwich, with a good balance of meat and dressings, while the Tuscan turkey panini fails to offer more than the barest whiff of that which its name implies. Provolone and red pepper cream cheese are the only other items besides turkey between slices of pressed sourdough bread.

What would help the panini menu the most is a different kind of compression. Put some of the ham from the Harvey ham and Swiss on the featureless pear and brie panini, and you'd have a fine sandwich. Put some whole vegetables from the grilled veggie panini on that sad Tuscan turkey affair. Losing a few menu items is no real loss if it makes the whole list better.

Smokey's roast beef sandwich earns its name with pepperjack and a gentle hit of chipotle. And if the vegetarian Madison could use a little more hummus, it at least delivers on roasted veggies and herbed goat cheese. These sandwiches are served on a decent Italian roll, but its chewiness causes ingredient blowout. I recommend against slicing your sandwiches in half in this case.

I was told that the students from nearby Monona Grove who visited before the end of term found Rosie's too expensive, a date spot. Don't trust the kids; prices here are reasonable, and that peanut butter and jelly doughnut is probably best as a solitary effort anyway. Rosie's is comfortable, charming and, like that doughnut, both a little clumsy and a good bit of fun.

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