banzo

Logo and menu on side of Banzo food cart located on Library Mall.

Netalee Sheinman and Aaron Collins have had great success with their food cart, Banzo, and in June, they plan to open a cafe of the same name at 2105 Sherman Ave.

Sheinman, 29, is originally from Israel, and Collins, 27, is from Oregon (the Madison area one, not the state). The two met while studying in Australia. They were living in New York, where the mainstays of their cart — falafel and hummus — are everywhere.

“Israeli food, or Mediterranean food, whatever you want to call it, has become very, very popular,” Sheinman said, “whether it’s for late-night food, lunch or dinner.”

The couple, who plan to wed in June, decided to bring their Israeli food to Madison.

“We know there are some other Mediterranean restaurants — we know Bunky’s, we know Med Café — and they are all really great, but with Mediterranean food or Middle Eastern food, depending on how you call it, every region has kind of its own specific thing,” Sheinman said. “We knew there wasn’t an Israeli (cart), so we decided to do that.”

Sheinman and Collins opened the cart in October. Initially, it was in the Union South area, but now it’s on Library Mall at the corner of State and Lake. They are currently doing take-out and delivery from their Sherman location from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday . The phone number is 441-2002. The cart is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Besides falafel and freshly made hummus, they offer the Harvest, a pita sandwich with a mix of falafel, fried eggplant and spinach; grilled chicken breast; sliders made with beef from Jenifer Street Market; a Philly pita; schnitzel, or breaded fried chicken breast; and side salads.

Depending on the day and the weather, they offer soups and will have cold soups for the summer.

Everything but the pita is gluten-free. They serve celery instead of pita bread for people on a gluten-free diet, so people have a way to scoop up the hummus.

Chef Dan Schmitz has worked at Chautara, so he has experience with ethnic food, Sheinman said. “He’s really creative and excited for the cafe. He’s excited about the specials and everything that comes along with it.”

Sheinman calls the Sherman location, originally a two-story house, a cafe rather than a restaurant. They want it to be casual with good quality food and plan to add a few specials and some seafood options.

On the outskirts of Maple Bluff, it sits in the mostly residential Sherman Avenue neighborhood across from Burrows Park. It last was home to Vientiane Garden.

Sheinman is thrilled about having seating on the house’s large porch. “The sunsets here are gorgeous, and there’s a view of the park,” she said.

In the meantime, the interior needs remodeling, Sheinman said.

“This house has a lot of potential, but it just needs a lot of work. Basically, the reason we haven’t started (dine-in service) yet is because we don’t want to give people the wrong idea. We’d rather have it remodeled before we have people here,” she said. “We keep getting warned about this location, so I hope we prove everyone wrong.”

The name Banzo is short for garbanzo bean, Banzo’s main ingredient. “A lot of people don’t get it. We get that asked a few times a day,” Sheinman said.

NAKED ELM CLOSES

Biggie Lemke recently closed the Naked Elm, the bakery and cafe she ran in Blue Mounds with partner Matt Heindl, after the two split up. Lemke, who has a 3-year-old daughter with Heindl, had to close the business because of a legal dispute with the building’s owners. The couple lived upstairs.

“I’m not sure about the future,” Lemke said. “I’m hoping we can just move closer to Madison and maybe we can make something work someplace else. I’m not leaving forever. I’m just not going to be here.”

Lemke and Heindl opened the bakery and cafe in early November. The couple remodeled the building and Heindl spent six months building a 20,000-pound wood-fired oven, which can bake 45 loaves of bread or 85 bagels and bialys at the same time.

BEARD AWARD GIVES ENERGY TO L’ETOILE’S MILLER AND STAFF

Tory Miller, the executive chef and co-owner of L’Etoile and Graze, was named best chef in the Midwest at the prestigious 2012 James Beard Awards Monday night in New York.

While accepting the award on stage at Lincoln Center, Miller said he went from “flipping burgers to the Beard Award.”

Miller, with his trademark mohawk hairstyle, gave a shout out to his colleagues at L’Etoile and Graze. “Without you guys and your refusal to be mediocre, I wouldn’t be up here,” he said.

He also thanked the local farmers from whom he buys the ingredients for his kitchen. “I don’t know how to cook without your food,” he said.

Back in Madison Wednesday, Miller said the honor was still sinking in. “I finally took it off. I stopped wearing it around,” he said, joking about the medal.

Nothing will change much now that Miller is a Beard winner. “We have a lot going on with two restaurants. I’m ready to just get back and keep cooking,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a really good summer as far as all the great produce … we’ll be getting.”

Miller said the award will give him and his staff “stronger energy to go forward” with certain plans.

For one, Miller would like to have a food cart that would start out in the courtyard of Graze, hopefully by mid-summer. “I have a lot of ideas,” he said, “and it’s hard to wrangle them all in.”

Miller was among 12 semifinalists in the “Best Chef: Midwest” category along with Shinji Muramoto of Restaurant Muramoto.

L’Etoile founder Odessa Piper — whom Miller bought the restaurant from in 2005 with his sister, Traci — received the same award in 2001.

NITTY GRITTY BIRTHDAY SIPPY CUPS

The Nitty Gritty is now giving out commemorative birthday sippy cups to all toddlers who celebrate their birthdays at the bar’s Downtown or Middleton location.

Besides the spill-free, BPA-free cups for tots, the venerable birthday bar and restaurant is offering its adult celebrants free specialty birthday cocktails — low-calorie birthday rum punch and blueberry limeade — in addition to the usual choice of free tap beer or fountain soda with unlimited refills. Toddlers and young children can choose free milk or juice.

Those who celebrate their birthday at the Nitty Gritty are given a birthday balloon and keepsake mug. The name of each birthday customer is placed on the restaurant’s birthday board while a bell is rung.

The Nitty Gritty has two locations: Downtown at 223 N. Frances St., and 1021 N. Gammon Road.

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