Long a staple at elementary school birthday parties and community bake sales, the once lowly cupcake has become a trendy dessert du jour in cities across the country, and now Madison has its own restaurant with a cupcake specialty on Atwood Avenue.
At the recently opened Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery, the sweets are flying out the door like, well, hotcakes.
On several recent visits, the cafe portion of the business also appeared to be doing a brisk business, with diners stopping in for traditional breakfast fare and lunches. We found the Daisy overall to be a fine, moderately priced addition to an area of Madison already blessed with a variety of locally owned eateries, but it's the cupcakes that set the tone and have lured in the crowds.
The Daisy is averaging sales of 200 to 300 cupcakes every day - more than double the numbers co-owners Kathy Brooks and Daryl Sisson anticipated for the inaugural weeks or months of their new restaurant, located in the space formerly occupied by Bunky's Cafe (which moved down the street).
In fact, the business partners already are adding another baker to help chief baker and cupcake architect Nerissa Metcalf, and are considering whether they will need to transform a garage on the property into a designated bakery.
Metcalf, a graduate of La Follette High School, trained as a baker in a culinary arts program in Phoenix and has worked at local bakeries including La Brioche, Monty's Blue Plate and the Market Street Diner. She describes her confections as "a pretty basic cake recipe with really good ingredients and an awesome Swiss-meringue buttercream frosting."
The cupcakes ($2.50 each) are their own best advertising. They're baked fresh from scratch every day, and use only real fruit and natural ingredients, with no artificial flavorings. The cake itself is moist and airy, and the frosting flavorful but not too sweet. Current flavors have included chocolate mocha and vanilla, and chocolate cakes with raspberry, blueberry or strawberry frosting.
The cafe's menu is extensive, with both breakfast and lunch offerings available all day. I recently ordered the turkey, sun-dried tomato, pesto and feta meatloaf ($8.99), which came with steamed carrots and sugar snap peas as well as roasted potatoes. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, and the small red potatoes were very good. The turkey meatloaf, served in a small globe shape rather than slices of a traditional loaf, was virtually grease-free and offered a nice balance of savory flavors complementing the ground turkey.
There are three other meatloaf options for the same price, including the more traditional beef and bacon; a housemade chorizo sausage with red bell peppers, pepper jack cheese, onions and jalapeno; and a vegetarian loaf with mushrooms, a blend of nuts and vegetables. Each meatloaf special comes with a sauce.
With my order, I got the sauce intended for the vegetarian option, made with roasted red peppers. It was a lovely color and wasn't a bad choice with the turkey loaf, but this minor service error shows coordination between the kitchen and dining room is still being fine-tuned.
Other lunch options include salads, soups, sandwiches and several burgers, but don't ask for fries. The Daisy doesn't have a deep fryer, concentrating instead on sides like an edamame salad ($2), veggie slaw ($1.75) or a fresh fruit cup ($3).
A friend and I met for breakfast last week, and were very happy with our choices, which included the breakfast sandwich (fried egg, bacon, cream cheese, purple onions and cilantro on grilled rosemary bread, served with fresh fruit for $6.99) and one of the kitchen's signature stratas ($7.99). The strata included eggs, crimini mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, pesto and toasted bread cubes served hot in a ramekin.
Both were served with a combination of excellent pineapple and two kinds of melon.
We also were happy to see the Daisy children's menu, which is $3.99 for the following choices: silver dollar pancakes, an egg with toast, a grilled cheese sandwich (no crust!) or grilled chicken strips. All are served with a side of fresh fruit and milk.
Overall, the Daisy's emphasis on fresh rather than fried food makes for a meal that feels light and healthy, and leaves plenty of room for a cupcake.
\ Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery\ daisycafeandcupcakery.com\ ***\ Address: 2728 Atwood Ave.\ Phone: 241-2200\ Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday (full menu), with cupcakes and beverages until 5 p.m.; and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, with cupcakes and beverages until 5 p.m.\ Notes: Parking lot next door, street parking nearby