Toward the end of the year, there were more than the usual number of restaurant closings. Yet openings, closings, revamps and site shufflings are common in the normally fluid world of food service. This felt particularly unsettling, though, because everything else felt so unsettled.
Local ingredients on a menu were a hot ticket, and we saw them move into more affordable sites, especially coffee shops. Among them: Crema Cafe, which opened a second location on Commerce Drive on the west side in addition to its Monona Drive mothership; Mermaid Cafe, which expanded its sit-down space in Schenk's Corners; and Crossroads Coffeehouse in Cross Plains. Bradbury's brought crepes filled with goodies from Hook's Cheese and Fountain Prairie Farm to downtown. These locally owned and operated hangouts erased the need to go to fast-casual chains for a fancy sandwich and decent java.
Small-plate dining with a global spin continued to be popular, offering a chance to go out, snack, drink and socialize without committing to a vast repast. Shinji Muramoto moved his Restaurant Muramoto to the site of Cocoliquot, where it continued a small-plate approach. He opened Kushi Bar Muramoto, in his original King Street spot, with an even smaller plate approach, with a variety of skewers and rice bowls. Monroe Street found room for Monroe Street Bistro, which combined small plates with local ingredients.
Downtown, there was an undergraduat-ization of many spots. The University Square food court opened, but with four national fast-food chains (Sbarro, Quizno's, Nori Japan and Stir Fry 88) instead of the locally owned kitchens common to the old University Square. Caspian Cafe, which concentrated on Middle Eastern, vegetarian and vegan-friendly food, was replaced by Big Red's Steaks, a Philly cheesesteak shop. National chain Five Guys Burgers and Fries landed on State Street, its claim to fame being never-frozen beef and never-frozen potatoes for its fries. Pel'Meni, the unique Russian dumpling purveyor, closed, replaced with The Dawg House, a Chicago-style hot dog stand.
The Angelic, which stopped brewing its own beer awhile back, closed its doors for good. While serving no food at all, The Malt House on East Wash quickly became a home for the serious beer aficionado and seeker of craft and extreme beers - and the proper glasses to drink them from.
World cuisine continued to be popular. Africana brought East African food to Atwood Avenue; Doug's brought soul food to the Madison-Fitchburg line; and Pizza Brutta brought perfect pies to Monroe Street. Flavor of India opened on the Square. Bucatini opened in Middleton. Oliva Italian and Mediterranean Cuisine brought Turkish fare to the far west side. Samba Brazilian Grill brought grilled meats to your table, while its sister restaurant, The Cabana Room, served Brazilian burgers and sandwiches and feijoada, a black bean stew.
La Baguette, an authentic French bakery, enlivened the city's somewhat tired baking scene when it pulled up stakes from its lauded Minocqua location and opened a cafe near West Towne this fall.
The Dayton Street Grille opened in the Concourse Hotel under the guiding hand of top local chef Charles Lazzareschi. Good Times opened in the former Fitch's in Fitchburg. Talula opened in the big pink castle on Cottage Grove Road. Scatz Sports Bar opened in Middleton.
The Bamboo Hut closed; Taqueria Guanajuato moved in. Dobra Tea opened in the former Real Chili. Thai Orchid became Thai Basil. La Brioche expanded to University Avenue and added "True Food" to its name. Wonders Pub was replaced by Alchemy. Casa de Lara-Fitchburg became Casa del Sol. SukhoThai closed; Trapani Pizza and Pasta opened in its space in late May and had closed already by mid-November. By December, the space housed Vientiane Palace. Osteria de Lucca closed. Whole Foods, which had been planning a large new store at Hilldale with a vast ready-to-eat area, backed out of those plans. China Palace, one of the better Chinese kitchens in town, closed. Tumbleweeds Grill closed. Carlos O'Kelly's closed. State Bar and Grill closed. Scott's Pastry's branch on the Square closed. Fitchburg's LMNO'Pies closed, at least for the time being.
El Corral brought Peruvian and other South American fare to the north side in March; it closed by fall. Sucre on the Square opened in spring, serving desserts by chef Punky Egan; it closed by the end of November. The site of the White Horse Inn remained empty for another year, and the former home of Fyfe's Corner Bistro has yet to find a new tenant.
Coffee Gallerie closed at the end of October. Just before Christmas, the Fork and Spoon Cafe closed due to slowing business. Cafe Zoma also closed its doors suddenly on Dec. 23, although owner Ann Freiwald is planning a neighborhood meeting at 10 am on Dec. 28 to "brainstorm creative options to maintain this community space for the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood."
Oh, right. Hooters closed. I guess there's a bright side to everything.