2014 was a big year for Madison’s restaurant scene.
After some organizing in late 2013, this was the year that introduced the city to a new coalition of chefs and offered their first major event at a brand new park.
The original locavore, Alice Waters, returned to talk slow food. Down the road, Black Earth Meats closed and sued the village it took its name from.
Diners saw the end of Melly Mel’s, Jolly Bob’s, Café Costa Rica, Bluephie’s Downtown Deli, Veranda in Fitchburg and Mason’s on Main in Oregon.
They also watched the openings of the new Tip Top Tavern, Rare Steakhouse on the Square, Monsoon Siam, the Statehouse in the Edgewater, OSS Madison, Haveli Indian Restaurant, Short Stack Eatery and Cento, to name a few.
Wendigo brought farm-to-table food to Stoughton, while Sujeo put a local spin on Asian street food.
And Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, to the joy of pizza-lovers all over the city, opened up shop on East Johnson Street.
There were ramen smackdowns, cocktail pop-ups, literal sausage fests and mouth-watering galleries of Madison's favorite burgers.
With the coaching of entrepreneur Eric Bescak, I tried my first cricket cookies. It was a very good year to be an adventurous eater — even grocery stores have begun adding full-service sushi bars.
Here, then, are some of our top food stories of 2014. May the new year be even more delicious.
With the twin goals of connecting better to one another and presenting themselves as an influential force in the city, the members of the Madison Area Chefs Network started meeting quietly in late 2013.
By spring, chefs like Forequarter’s Jonny Hunter had already begun making plans for future events and sharing each other’s kitchens. Shinji Muramoto made a ramen-inspired pizza at Salvatore’s Tomato Pies in Sun Prairie. A “Chopped” style challenge started. They hooked up with Sea to Table to get better fish, faster.
Later in the summer, the chefs made their public debut with YumYum Fest at Central Park, a decadent day of music and outdoor dining. Highlights included an inventive, savory parfait with sea urchin from Grampa’s Pizzeria, burrata from A Pig in a Fur Coat and a cold, grilled beef dish from Osteria Papavero.
Years of contention between the flourishing organic butcher shop and the town of 1,300 where it made its home came to a fractious end in July when owner Bartlett Durand loudly closed the doors and filed a massive law suit against the town’s leadership.
Though the initial nuisance complaints brought against the slaughterhouse by the village have been dismissed, the fight continues.
A Kickstarter campaign that sought a whopping $225,000 to buy back butchery equipment from the bank failed, but Durand continues to raise money for more Conscious Carnivore butcher shops and a new processing facility, possibly in Mt. Horeb, Middleton or Racine.
From new supper clubs in Sun Prairie to saloons on State Street, new restaurants opening this year pushed the shortage of line cooks to a new level of concern. In this story, we heard about Madison College’s plans to double its culinary program, as well as the chefs network’s hopes to partner with the city on a three-week training program.
For a companion piece, we got to go behind the scenes at Epic Systems and see how chef Eric Rupert manages to feed 3,000 people in a single cafeteria, all at restaurant-quality levels.
Among the restaurant reviews of 2014, these stand out.
Cento, 122 W. Mifflin St. — Under the leadership of chef Michael Pruett, the prosciutto pizza, delicate crudo, creamy, tangy burrata mozzarella and friendly bar staff made this new Food Fight restaurant an excellent addition to downtown.
Haveli Indian Restaurant, 5957 McKee Road, Fitchburg — From a strip mall in Fitchburg came one of the best dinners of my year, helped along by goat curry, lamb biryani, aloo ghobi with ginger, cumin and turmeric, and crunchy, colorful samosa chaat.
Sujeo, 10 N. Livingston St. — The review for L’Etoile/ Graze chef Tory Miller’s take on pan-Asian cuisines started with a group of Twittering friends and a table so crowded with food, we could barely put our chopsticks down. Dim sum just started on weekends, but don’t miss the pork curry, ssam of any kind, General Tso’s chicken livers, and a fantastic tripe and tongue appetizer.
Oliver’s Public House, 2540 University Ave. — The review runs on the last day of the year, but Oliver’s snuck in as one of the highlights of 2014, with excellent craft cocktails and comfort food that draws inspiration from all over the world.
In the new year, look for news on Tory Miller’s new tapas restaurant and café/bar, set to open in the Ovation 309 building at Johnson and State streets next year. 1847 at the Stamm House, where Nick Johnson will be chef, is preparing to open, hopefully in winter or early spring.
Coming to East Washington Avenue will be a trio of new spots: Julep, a Southern restaurant; Barolo, a wine bar run by the owner of Maduro; and A-OK, a coffee house from the owners of Johnson Public House.