Lauren Justice Lauren Justice for Isthmus
Noontimes on the Capitol Square, you see them emerge from their cubicles — office workers, carrying a few extra pounds. The industrious walk a couple of circuits around the Square. Some head to the gym. A popular noontime lunch is the salad — the antidote to all that sitting. Witness the lines at the Good Food cart, seller of salads and wraps. Witness the fact that there are now two Good Food carts, both on the Square.
For years, Sunprint Cafe in the U.S. Bank building had the corner on the salad bar market. The cafe relocated to West Mifflin Street in spring 2013 (where it still has its salad bar). Last winter, the ground floor bank space was given a much-needed remodel. There’s a bright, white, mid-century modern flair to the room now that matches the modernist aura of the building as a whole.
Gooseberry opened there this spring. Breakfast is focused on egg dishes (scrambles and breakfast burritos), but biscuits and gravy, french toast or pancakes are also served. At lunch, there’s a standard array of sandwiches and a trio of pasta entrees.
The shorter menu makes sense, because most visitors head straight for the salad bar. And it’s a good one, with fresh greens (iceberg, mixed greens, spinach and a sort of slaw) and a range of toppers.
Beyond the expected (shredded carrots, broccoli florets), look for pickled green beans, spicy pickled beets, corn kernels, large fresh radish slices, Kalamata olives, chunks of raw zucchini and yellow squash, mandarin oranges and dried fruits — including raisins and dried cranberries, but also banana slices and, remarkably, starfruit. The best of the tomatoes are the cherry tomatoes that come with balls of mozzarella, bathed in basil olive oil.
Proteins include nice chunks of grilled chicken, cubes of ham, slices of pepperoni, hard-boiled eggs left mostly whole (rather than just egg crumbles). Wasabi peas, a crunchy add-on, lend a zippy finish.
The only oddity is that some of the dried fruits come in such large chunks and are so dehydrated, they’re not very edible — but then, they’re easy to avoid. At $6.95 per pound, you can create a pretty hefty salad for about $7-$8.
Where Gooseberry really needs to step up is with its soups, the traditional sidekick to salad. It serves four kinds a day, and too often they’ve been disappointing. A chicken wild rice and a black bean were both too thick — like gravies, and without much flavor. Chicken dumpling suffered from bland dumplings. A chalky chicken tortilla soup, too, didn’t have much flavor. The best of the bunch was a creamy tomato basil. There are much better soups nearby (Good Food cart, Slide food cart, Sunprint Cafe, Cranberry Creek), and it will be easy for diners to head elsewhere.
Breakfasts are mostly fine. Coffee is from Colectivo. Scrambled eggs are cooked flat, omelet-style, rather than actually scrambled, but they’re not overcooked. A single pancake as a side is not on the menu, but they’ll make you one anyway, and it’s buttermilk-rich on the inside (though a little mushy) and crispy on the outside. Bacon is done well, neither too crispy nor too chewy.
A few items are not quite what you expect from their description. Biscuits and gravy lack the peppery bite of Southern-style milk gravy, and the biscuit tastes more like a scone. The “Classic Mediterranean” sandwich with hummus, roasted eggplant, hardboiled egg and lemon vinaigrette is more like a new take on an egg salad sandwich; the egg and lemon vinaigrette is a winning combo, but they overshadow the Mediterranean element.
But maybe all Gooseberry needs to succeed is a varied salad bar, friendly service and plenty of to-go containers. The people love their greens.
Gooseberry on the Square
1 S. Pinckney St., 608-467-6552, 6 am-5 pm Mon.-Fri., 6 am-3 pm Sat., $2-$10