Coffee-hunters line up at Barriques Coffee Trader just off the Square, as seen from its balcony seating area.
Maybe it's our suddenly snowy winter that has me in the coffeehouse mood. For some reason, January always says to me, "good strong coffee." I've been downing tiny cups of macchiato lately (a shot of espresso touched with some foamed milk, exactly how much foamed milk being a bone of some contention in the coffee world) and craving grilled cheese sandwiches. Warm food for cold days.
So I've been sampling macchiatos all over. Barriques Coffee Trader is an interesting hangout in the Loraine Condos just off the Square. Even though the shop is brand new, its interior has a dark, heavy, wooden look that is so much more early '80s than the '00s. The railings are made from iron objects like bike chains and cutlery welded together, funky but it still doesn't lighten the place up much. I guess if you are suffering from a little seasonal affective disorder, you might want to seek out a sunnier café.
That aside, the two-story space, where balcony-dwellers can look out over the groundlings, offers a number of nooks where you can have a private conversation or get away from it all in the middle of the day. WiFi is available as are two Macs for customer use.
My macchiato delivered -- Barriques uses Alterra roasted coffees from Milwaukee. I returned for lunch a few days later. Barriques makes the most of a limited number of food entrees. The Wisconsin Dip (grilled cheese, of course, $6.25) came with a cup of soup and a choice of chips, greens, or potato salad. I picked greens and the day's curried rice lentil soup. Don't let that name scare you off! Curried lentils sounds like something punishing straight out of the original Moosewood cookbook, but this smooth soup, with specks of carrot and red pepper, was more like a Mulligatawny, only not as sweet. No one element overpowered anything else, yet the curry was quite spicy. A very worthy soup.
The grilled cheese, made with Madison Sourdough bread and Hook's three-year cheddar, suffered from the overly potent cheese. The bread held up to the cheese fairly well, but three-year cheddar is too aggressive for a grilled cheese sandwich. There's plenty of great cheeses that fall between this and the banality of a Kraft single. Also, the cheese was not completely melted and the bread looked barely grilled. The plain side of greens tossed with a vinaigrette had very little appeal. The vinaigrette was very sparsely applied, making the salad seem even more bleak.
Prime picks for return trips are the "Huevos con piggy" sandwich (egg salad with apple wood smoked bacon, avocado, jalapenos and scallions) and the blueberry jubilee salad (mixed greens with walnuts, Granny Smith apples, Salemville bleu cheese and blueberry vinaigrette).
The baked goods case features Clausen's excellent morning buns and Madison Sourdough brioche, with the rest of the cookies, scones and bars coming from the Alterra bakery of Milwaukee. For the budget-minded: bakery goes half-price at 8 p.m.
Barriques also sells bottles of wine and can spike your coffee drink with actual alcohol, providing real Irish coffee, Irish crème lattes, and Daddy Grasshoppers ($4.75). And because Barriques is open until midnight Wednesdays through Saturdays, it could make a nice stop on your way home from a show at the Bartell or a date at the Overture Center.