The new kosher cafe in the UW-Madison Hillel building on Langdon Street is a big improvement over the former Cafe Osher, and with Passover starting Friday, that could be good news to those who celebrate the holiday.
Adamah Neighborhood Table, which opened in September, is run by Blue Plate Catering. Years ago, Blue Plate was spun off from the restaurant group Food Fight, but the two are still connected in one way. Blue Plate is run by Jodi Fowler, who is married to Food Fight co-founder Monty Schiro.
Another factor integral to the improvement is Adamah’s executive chef, Mark Walters, formerly of Samba Brazilian Grill and Brickhouse BBQ.
The cafe has a simple, but intriguing, menu, which includes breakfast all day and sandwiches like falafel, turkey and hot pastrami, as well as wraps and flatbreads. There are also soups, salads and smoothies.
Most of the food is prepped upstairs in the main kitchen, but finished off on the cafe’s small grill and in the prep area behind the counter. Our meals came out one at a time when they were done.
The counter person called out each meal as it came up, bringing out the challah cinnamon French toast ($5.95) herself and apologizing that it took the longest to make. Challah makes superior French toast, in my opinion. There was just enough egg batter and the bread was perfectly griddled.
My companion’s three-egg, “farm to table” scramble ($6.50) was full of fluffy egg and fresh ingredients: halved cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions and mushrooms, but it needed some seasoning, and some cheese.
The thing is, as a kosher kitchen, Adamah can’t mix milk and meat, so to make things easy, it serves meat, but does not carry anything with dairy. And in Wisconsin, that’s a bit of a challenge.
Not to get too far into the Bible, but the separation of milk and meat comes from a verse in Exodus, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” “Kid” came to stand for all animals, “boil” was expanded to eating, and “milk” was broadened to all dairy products.
People who keep kosher go so far as to use separate dishes and kitchen utensils for milk and meat.
Religious lesson complete, let’s return to the food. The Southwest sweet potato hash ($6.50) didn’t scream for cheese, but it didn’t gel for other reasons. A generous plate of sweet potato cubes was sautéed with caramelized onions, black beans, poblano peppers and flecks of green pepper. The Southwest spices seemed to clash with the sweet potatoes and probably would have worked better with regular potatoes.
The best part was an onion-heavy dollop of guacamole on top that harmonized with the potatoes, even though you might not think it would.
Each of the breakfasts came with a choice of fruit, skillet potatoes or toast. The fruit was a cheerful mix of fresh pineapple, red grapes, honeydew and cantaloupe. The potatoes were pan-fried and seasoned distinctively with garlic, onion and fennel seed.
Two other friends enjoyed their lunch selections. One had the quarter-pound, Chicago-style kosher hot dog ($6.50), which was a plump, 100-percent beef dog on a poppy-seed bun with onions, tomatoes, peppers and a dill spear.
The other ordered the Southwestern wrap ($7.95), which was supposed to feature pulled chicken but had meaty squares instead, and lots of them. The wheat tortilla was fresh and stuffed with greens, black beans, corn, tomato, and a hint of guacamole.
“It wasn’t messy to eat,” said my friend, who liked it, but wasn’t dazzled. “Sometimes when you eat a wrap everything comes squirting out.”
Sandwiches come with a bag of kettle chips, fruit or coleslaw.
The smoothies offered include some unusual combinations you don’t see in other places, and it should stay that way for at least one that we tried.
The Coastie ($4.25 for a 12 ounce and $5.50 for a 16 ounce) had an unworkable combination of banana, coffee and cocoa. Mine popped up at the same time as another customer’s, and I watched her throw half of it away. I was doing the same, so I remarked on it to her. We both agreed they didn’t pull it off and the coffee tasted bitter.
There were no such problems with a piña colada version ($4.25/$5.50) we ordered afterward. A companion called it a good virgin representation of one of his favorite summer drinks.
The cafe’s environment is well-designed and relaxing with a large, pale green banquette in the corner. What’s more, prices are reasonable, since they’re largely designed for students.
Adamah, a Hebrew word that means “ground” or “earth,” is the only kosher certified restaurant in Madison.
Just check the hours before you go. They revolve around the Jewish Sabbath, so the cafe is closed Friday nights and Saturdays.
Hours may be disrupted during the upcoming eight-day Passover holiday, and there will be some days when the cafe won’t be able to accept money because of religious law. On those days it will offer special, buffet-style dining, Walters said.
“People will have to pay us another way, another time. We’re still working those details out,” he said.