Dining options in downtown Madison expand and expand. Noshers near the Capitol Square can choose from a wondrous variety of dishes: pelmeni to tekka maki, doro wat to dal bhat tarkari.
But all too scarce downtown is the food of the sunny South. Where, in the central city, does a Southern boy like me have to go to get a smoked pork shoulder sandwich and some okra?
The answer, come Aug. 21, is The Local, a bar and eatery opening on the site of now-shuttered Flatiron Tavern, which opened two years ago at 102 King St. The Local is the brainchild of Sue Kirton, owner of Opus Lounge, and of Ethan Lund, a mainstay of Madison hospitality familiar to local night owls from his tenures working at the Orpheum, Brocach and Opus.
"We do have a Southern American theme," says Lund, "And barbecue is what we're really hanging our hat on. Barbecue ribs, Kansas City-style. That's what's missing in the meat landscape downtown."
The new chef, Alex Cays, cooked at Brocach and at Heaven City, in Mukwonago. He also worked in Japan, and some of his creations will combine Southern and Asian themes ' crawfish pot stickers, for example. Other likely highlights: andouille sausage-stuffed okra with sweet corn sauce, parmesan-encrusted rainbow trout, spicy crawdad salad. "It's like tuna salad," says Lund. "We've got eclectic, but down-home tastes."
The restaurant's name, Lund says, does not necessarily imply locally sourced ingredients, or that the sandwiches will be named after local celebrities. "It is what it is," he says mysteriously.
A big Madison hey dere to Charles Lazzareschi, who is taking over as executive chef at the Concourse Hotel, 1 W. Dayton St., whose dining operations include the Dayton Street CafÃ and the fine-dining establishment Ovations.
A native of San Francisco, Lazzareschi studied at the California Culinary Academy in the city by the bay. He most recently was executive chef at Embassy Suites in Denver.
If you have celiac disease ' which is to say, if you are gluten intolerant ' Bunky's Cafe, 2827 Atwood Ave., has a penne noodle for you, and also a spaghetti noodle and a pizza crust. The restaurant has introduced a gluten-free menu including these, with more to come.
Some items come from Silly Yak Bakery and Bread Barn, 7866 Mineral Point Rd., where all manner of gluten-free goodies are baked. Silly Yak is a homophone for celiac, by the way.
Say a quiet prayer of mourning for Ole-n-Rick's Northside Inn, the storied tavern at 1206 N. Sherman Ave. The site will not be empty long, though. In its place will be La Belle Italia, whose proprietor, Pietro Pipitone, brought a little of la belle Italia to Beaver Dam with his namesake pizza parlor.
The new restaurant will be open "probably sometime in September," says Pipitone, who makes his home in Sun Prairie. A native of Marsala, Sicily, he has been in the restaurant business for 23 years.
Also recently departed is Yirgalem, the Ethiopian restaurant on Monroe Street, as well as Francois' Bakery and Cafe. That's the acclaimed Milwaukee Street establishment whose owner, Francois Kiemda, of Burkina Faso, used to bake for Robert De Niro.
Stop by Barriques Wine Bar, 127 W. Washington Ave., next Wednesday, Aug. 23, for a tasting hosted by Madison Repertory Theatre. Artistic director Richard Corley will be on hand. The sipping gets under way at 5:30 p.m.; cost is $25 in advance, or $30 at the door.