Where: Mermaid Cafe, 1929 Winnebago St.
Why you should go: This nouvelle luncheonette on Chicagoesque Schenk's Corners is a sure cure for those Mad City small-town blues.
Do mermen feel discriminated against in here?
We tend to attract the type of mermen who appreciate a mermaid-dominated environment.
The name comes from the Joni Mitchell song 'Carey,' but I have an M.A. in English and it also reminded me of the Mermaid Tavern where Shakespeare hung out. And I'm half Danish ' the Little Mermaid is Denmark's national symbol.
My husband and I talked about owning a cafe for maybe 10 years or more, but it was all in the fantasy realm of 'what would we do if we had one?'
We moved back to Madison from Chicago when I was pregnant with my third child. I grew up here, I've got deep roots on the east side. I missed my family and my community. I started working for the school system, but I was driving a long way to work every day. It was hard on me and my family. When my daughter was born, I found out this building ' it used to be a coin store ' was for sale. I live about two blocks away. I lobbied to get it, then lost it to another buyer, who sold it to someone else, who turned out to be the owner of Himal Chuli, who sold it to me. Besides money, I owe him at least a thousand lattes.
When I first looked at the half of the building where the cafe is I thought, what the heck am I gonna do with a triangular storefront? It's 14 feet wide in front and four in back, it's like a little piece of pie. But there was something about it that reminded me of my favorite places in Seattle and Manhattan ' little urban holes-in-the-wall with good food and no theme-park atmosphere. That was the start of the Mermaid Cafe. We opened Dec. 19, 2005.
Got Chicken of the Sea, Charlie?
We have the amazing Uncle Bane tuna fish sandwich, named for a friend of mine who's a connoisseur of such things. This sandwich passes his muster. It's grilled on New York rye with provolone, tomato, onion and spicy giardiniera peppers.
Another highlight from our sandwich line is the bÃnh mÃ. I read The New York Times culinary section, and when I see something fun I latch onto it. That's where I got the recipe. It's a Vietnamese sandwich that's very popular in San Francisco ' a toasted baguette with roast beef, daikon radish and carrot slaw, cilantro and cucumber.
We also have a growing breakfast biz ' we do yogurt parfaits with homemade granola. There's an egg, cheese and ham or bacon panini on focaccia. We've got a special Shenk's Corners Breakfast. And I aim for the best latte in town. My coffee philosophy is fresh, strong and hot. People rely on us for their morning fix.
Any mermaid myths or fish tales?
A lot of parents come in with small kids. I tell them there are mermaids in the Yahara River, but they have to go down really early in the morning to see them. They're a pretty educated bunch ' I'm not so sure they believe me, but they like the story.