Ginger cake from Grampa's Pizzeria
No joke, I've been talking about the ginger cake at Grampa's Pizzeria for a year. It's the first thing I thought about when compiling my 2014 retrospective, and it was in January that I ate it. The rest of the year would have to work hard to keep pace -- but work it did.
At cozy Pat O'Malley's Jet Room, the griddle is crammed with hash browns and the pickup counter is stacked three plates deep at times. A measure of a great diner is when you leave wishing you were a regular, and the Jet Room nails this. The vibe may be the main thing here, but the hash browns were also memorable.
At a summer brunch at Graze, a hefty plate of chilaquiles and a bibimbap burrito captured all the crunchy-rice goodness of the dish that inspires it.
2014 even worked for lunch, a meal that tends to get overlooked as a workday necessity, rarely a meal of desire. But Sushi Muramoto's salmon skin roll, paired with the Sand and Smoke cocktail -- shochu, chartreuse, mezcal, pineapple and lime -- put me in a fine state of mind when I had it on an August afternoon.
Undoubtedly, Madison does some fine work during the dinner hour. Sometimes it's a singular event, like the Funk Factory/O'so Brewing pairing dinner at Forequarter -- the smoked mackerel with popped amaranth seeds and pickled beets was particularly memorable -- or Tory Miller's guest pizza at Salvatore's Tomato Pies in Sun Prairie. His "Red Dragon" pie was seemingly topped with an ingredient from each aisle of Yue-Wah Oriental Foods: bulgogi pork, bok choy, kimchi, gochujang and more, but nothing seemed excessive or imperceptible. Encountering friends and joining their table that night only amplified the magic.
The burnt ends at Blowin' Smoke Barbeque in Waunakee were one of the best items I ordered in 2014, fatty and charred and rich. In autumn, my wife and I celebrated her birthday at Osteria Papavero, where she enjoyed the classic boar pappardelle and I the taglierini alla Norcina, studded as it was with bits of sausage and fragrant with black truffle. Of course, you know we couldn't resist the butterscotch budino.
The entirety of that January meal at Grampa's worked, whether it was the Brassacre pizza topped with bacon and Brussels sprouts, the olives, the beet salad, the compact and smart tap list or the warm vibe at the bar. But the ginger cake. Man, I'll be talking about that next year, too.