Two kinds of beets, red and chiogga, are spring stars, along with chèvre, pickled onions, candied pecans, pea shoots and arugula.
Lori Stern and LeAnn Powers are the owners of Lucky Dog Farm, a former dairy near New Glarus they’ve converted into a bed-and-breakfast. Stern teaches Ashtanga yoga classes there, and together they raise goats, pigs and chickens and grow produce.
Much of the farm’s output now finds its way to Cow & Quince, the farm-to-fork restaurant and grocery the couple launched last September in downtown New Glarus.
The restaurant bills itself as a CSR, or community supported restaurant, along the lines of a CSA. Customers can join at varying membership levels in order to receive a discount on groceries, help the restaurant finish its build-out and be part of monthly prix fixe dinners. (You don’t need to be a member to eat there.)
What the restaurant doesn’t source from Lucky Dog comes from its nearby partners: Garden to Be, Grassroots Farm, Jordandal Farms, Scotch Hill and others.
This farm-aligned restaurant and market model isn’t new. The difference is how Cow & Quince blends a scrappy Kickstarter-like membership program, and then features a kitchen serious enough to offer prix fixe dinners.
This makes Cow & Quince unique, and already one of the most notable food entities (and experiments) in the region.
The restaurant occupies a cheery and sunny space, painted in a Provencal yellow with an open kitchen. There’s a market area up front with long shelves filled with local flour from Lonesome Stone, jellies and jams, YumButter, candles and soap.
When produce begins to appear in summer, there are a couple of refrigerated units in back to hold it. There’s a brimming cheese case at the counter, and an upright piano in the corner happily sees action from customers and their children.
The kitchen currently has no hood (part of the fundraising effort), and all cooking is done on induction burners or hot plates. This makes the food, by chef Jared Austin, all the more impressive. Austin, who cut his teeth at New Glarus’ beloved Glarner Stube and then cooked in UW-Madison campus kitchens, is clearly something of a wünderkind.
The menu features breakfast and lunch items, with a few changing daily specials. Recently, there has been an appetizer of rough-cut early spring vegetables like white turnips and radishes with shiitake mushrooms. Served with a brown butter vinaigrette and brought to the table by Austin himself, it’s the kind of dish that you hope to get in Madison but rarely ever do — seasonal and simple, thoughtfully made and elegantly presented. There is a thrilling lack of pretense.
From this auspicious start, the hits just keep rolling. On the breakfast menu, a sandwich with Jordandal’s decadent bacon along with Gouda and a fried egg arrives with crisped-to-perfection Madison Sourdough bread. It is all crunch and umami and yolky ooze.
For even larger appetites, a “Bunscuits & Gravy” is a Wisconsin take on the Southern favorite — toothsome cheesy biscuits are doused with pork country gravy, topped with a big fried egg and a generous helping of Farmer John’s cheese curds. This could all be too much in a bad way, but it works. There’s both squeak and crunch, and the flavors hold up against each other.
For something lighter and brighter, there’s a beautiful bowl of Sugar River vanilla yogurt and granola with dried fruit and toasted nuts.
There’s a Scrambler of the Day, as well as a truffle oil egg special, with the remainder of the menu featuring waffles. These are relatively small but perfectly done, and have fun toppings such as chevre, caramel and pecan, or Nutella and seasonal jam.
For lunch, there’s a daily soup, which has been an okay lentil but also a magnificent cream of mushroom. A delightful beet salad arrives with a heap of Garden to Be pea shoots that snap, along with pickled shallots and candied pecans. A beautiful market salad comes with an uplifting citrus vinaigrette and sunflower seeds. Your cucumbers will be sliced thin, the long way, and curled into impressive loops. The carrots will be ever so slightly cooked and then marinated.
A short list of sandwiches includes a grilled cheese stocked full of Emmentaler, Edelweiss Creamery grass-fed Gouda and Hook’s cheddar. Its schmear of jam might make it a bit sweet for some eaters, but the fruit acts as a great foil for the cheese.
There has recently been a knockout house-made pastrami special. Thick-cut, peppery pastrami is piled high, along with slawed beets. But if it’s not there, rest assured the regular menu always features a sandwich of pulled pork glazed with WiscoPop ginger beer — it comes with pickled jalapeños, aioli, and sweet and sour cabbage slaw.
The menu finishes with a “From the Farm” burger with Riemer Family Farm beef, caramelized onions, housemade ketchup and Castle Rock Organic Farms’ blue cheese, all on a Pretzilla roll.
Cow & Quince brings up the questions: Is one of the very best farm-to-table restaurants in Madison in New Glarus? And how good will it be when it has a real kitchen?
Cow & Quince
407 2nd St., New Glarus, 608-527-2900, cowandquince.com
Kitchen hours: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon., Thurs., and Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun., $6-$12.