We're all experts at something. For me, it's always been smoothies. Yes - that cold, fruity, sometimes creamy drink that tastes best on hot summer days. I earned the title "expert" somewhere around 10th grade, after I gave a presentation about the nutritional benefits of smoothies for a health class and was featured in a local paper for it. Anyone who's spent time with me has heard me yearn for a smoothie; I hardly go a day without consuming one.
Now that summer is in full swing, so too is smoothie season. Smoothie vendors line the Capitol Square during the Farmers' Market. Smoothies are on the menu at almost every coffee shop. Madison even has a select few smoothie bars.
What makes a good smoothie? I look for a balance of fruitiness, creaminess and sweetness. Texture should be neither too thick nor too thin. Smoothies that use real fruit are superior to those that use powders or syrups.
Here are my picks for five of the best (if not the best) smoothies in Madison.
Natural Juice Cart
Raspberry Cream Smoothie
Of the many smoothie carts in downtown Madison, Natural Juice scores big on both taste and charm. Smoothies are available in three sizes, starting at $2.75, and countless flavors. Choose from pre-set flavor combos, or make your own from a list of ingredients ranging from familiar (berries and banana) to exotic (avocados and lychee). The raspberry cream uses real berries and yogurt, and errs on the icy side. The Natural Juice cart, and the ever-friendly woman inside it, can be found on Library Mall weekdays, and the Capitol Square on Saturdays.
Fair Trade Coffee House, 418 State St.
Strawberry Mango Smoothie
Fair Trade offers smoothies made from frozen strawberries, mangos or bananas, or any combination of the three. Smoothies are blended with a choice of milk, soymilk or orange juice, and cost $4.90 for 16 ounces. My favorite is strawberry and mango blended with milk. This combo reaches a perfect creamy/sweet balance, and is filling enough for a light meal.
Prairie Café, 6720 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton
Not quite a smoothie, not quite a shake, definitely a happy medium between the two. This delicious drink is made with fresh strawberries and bananas, blended with frozen yogurt and wheat germ and topped with granola and a fresh strawberry. Great for breakfast, but delicious any time of the day. And at $4, it's a real winner. Prairie Café also offers fruit smoothies made from strawberry, blueberry, raspberry or banana.
Willy Street Co-op, 1221 Williamson St.
Willy Street Co-op offers Madison's only non-franchise dedicated juice and smoothie bar. Prices are steep, but the unique and organic ingredients offered are worth spending more for. If you're feeling adventurous, try the Green Dream, an incredibly refreshing smoothie made with mango, pineapple, spirulina and orange juice. Berries N' Cream is a safe standby with blueberry, raspberry, orange juice and coconut bliss ice cream. You can always design your own smoothie ($4.29 for 12 ounces, $5 for 16 ounces) from the co-op's extensive list of fruits, vegetables, milks, juices and nutritional supplements.
Crema Café, 4124 Monona Dr.
Gloomy Day Smoothie
In addition to a menu of satisfying breakfasts and lunches, Crema Café offers a great list of smoothies (all 16 ounces, $4.75). Choose from an extensive list of flavors like apples and bananas, strawberry oat and "Mangolicious." My favorite is the Gloomy Day, a smoothie made with frozen mango, banana, honey and orange juice. This packs a real punch of fruity flavor and is perfectly sweet and creamy. One sip and your gloomy day will blow right over.