As far as offering quality, local products, Java Den scores big.
There's no denying an important ingredient in many a successful college career is caffeine. That's why coffee shops are around just about every corner on the UW-Madison campus. While a couple of these shops offer an experience I keep coming back for, many seem like "just another place" to get a caffeine kick -- featuring mediocre coffee, passable baked goods, and no charm.
I felt a little out-of-bounds walking into Java Den, located in the lobby of the Grand Central apartment building at 1022 W. Johnson Street. Only a small street sign sets it apart from the high-rise. The constant flow of residents through the coffee shop didn't make me feel at home, and the limited indoor seating seemed to cue a pass on unpacking for an afternoon of studying. Atmosphere may be Java Den's weakest point.
, . The drink menu features a standard selection of espresso, coffee and tea. What the menu doesn't have is the long list of drinks that are a touch of coffee with a boatload of sugar, found in so many coffee shops. That earned Java Den some serious authenticity points in my book.
The latte did not disappoint -- not bitter, very creamy, well balanced. The au lait was enjoyable as well, though perhaps bolder than most. My main disappointment was that the beverages were handed to us in to-go cups, despite the stack of ceramic mugs behind the counter. I'd like at least to be given the choice to be environmentally-friendly if I want to.
The organic spinach, shaved red onion, fresh mozzarella, and roasted tomato aioli sandwich on herbed focaccia ($ 6) nearly emptied my wallet, but was worth it. Organic anything is rare to come by on campus, as is bakery-fresh bread, so I'm going to remember Java Den's offerings and apologize to my bank account later. Not to mention that the combination of the creamy aioli, the vegetables and the slightly salty fresh mozzarella was divine. (This sandwich is also available with shaved turkey.)
My lemon cupcake with raspberry mousse satisfied my sweet tooth, but wasn't memorable. It was expensive ($2.95) for its small size (even though the barista assured me I was getting a good deal), and the clunky plastic container it came in didn't add to aesthetics. Cupcakes-A-Go-Go really nailed the frosting-to-cake ratio, though, and its classy flavor combinations were intriguing. Java Den offers other flavors, including chocolate-espresso truffle and red velvet pomegranate.
Java Den may be "just another" coffee shop in terms of atmosphere, but as far as offering quality, local products, it scores big. And then there's Java Den's take on convenience, a walk-up window on Mills Street for college kids and anyone on the fly. You can even text your order via