Traveling through Madison's west side, you'll see many national restaurants and chain coffee shops. A search for a locally-owned place to enjoy a meal or meet a friend can end in frustration -- or, if you're lucky, at Yola's Café.
Yola's might be easy to miss if you don't live in the immediate neighborhood, but it's just a three minute drive from the West Towne Mall, nestled amongst several businesses at the corner of Watts Road and Commerce Drive. The café was formerly occupied by the west side location of Crema Café. Yola's has been in business since Crema moved out two years ago.
Yola's is named after owner Lance Ratke's grandmother, a woman who loved cooking for large gatherings of friends and family every weekend. She passed away in 2008, but her recipes and sense of hospitality live on through this café.
Breakfast at Yola's is not to be passed up. The bakery case is full of goods made in-house, from filled scones to muffins and quiche. For something different and delectable, try the cafe's baked oatmeal.
The featured breakfast item, though, is the malted Belgian waffle, made fresh to order with a secret family batter recipe. Waffles come plain or with one of several flavor combinations, like the Go Bananas waffle ($7) topped with sliced bananas, chopped walnuts, caramel sauce and homemade whipped cream. The My Classic waffle ($4) was crispy on the outside and soft in the center, the perfect treat when consumed piping hot with maple syrup and butter.
The lunch menu of mostly sandwiches is straightforward -- not a lot of surprises but enough options to please most anyone. I tried the Milano ($6.79), a sandwich with shaved turkey, roasted tomato slices, roasted garlic, greens and a schmear of goat cheese on toasted multi-grain bread. The goat cheese added a twist to an otherwise simple sandwich, and made for a satisfying flavor combination. The sandwich was served with chips and homemade salsa that was noticeably fresh and flavorful. Other good lunch options are the Grand Veggie sandwich, which features Wisconsin-made mozzarella, or one of several green salads.
The drink menu is vast, ranging from a simple cup of coffee made with beans from Belleville, Wis.-based roaster Viamo, to specialty lattes or fruit smoothies. Yola's also features iced and hot teas from Madison's Cha Cha Teas.
Yola's offers a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Wireless internet is free, and the ample outlets make the café a good option for an afternoon of business or studying. There's also one computer available for customer use. Kids will enjoy the play area at the front of the café, and everyone can appreciate the changing display of local art throughout the cafe. Yola's features occasional live music and special events, including occasional Board Game nights and comedy shows.
Yola's cozy vibe and darn good waffles make the short drive from the chaos of the mall area worth it any day. After a few visits, this bit of local flavor could even be called a home away from home, a thought Yola herself would surely smile about.