Every Wednesday, I venture through the snow, sleet, rain or heat to visit UW-Madison’s Slow Food Café. The food is exceptional, the recipes are a creative endeavor and I have yet to experience any disappointment with my lunch—other than wishing there was more.
The café began only a couple of years ago, and has since grown into a weekly event with hundreds of faithful customers, both students and community members. After the remarkable success of the Family Dinner Nights held each Monday night at 6:30 pm, Slow Food members decided to expand the student-run organization’s involvement with the community. Cue the Slow Food Café.
The Café’s mission is helping “customers and volunteers to learn about the people and places we get our food from, and to discover the positive community impact of a café where students prepare fresh food using ingredients from farmers in South Central Wisconsin.” The café interns devise a fresh menu each week based on what’s in season and what their providers—Willy Street Coop and various local farmers—have readily available.
Besides the obvious benefits of using primarily local ingredients—the produce and meat is fresher and their business helps keep our farmers thriving—relying on seasonal and local products requires an exceptional creativity on the part of the interns. Despite using similar ingredients as the base of many of their recipes, they consistently create a menu that is unique and enjoyable. For example, beets are a wintertime crop, but the chefs do not simply roast the beets and serve them over a bed of greens or mixed with other roasted winter vegetables, they also make beet bread, beet yogurt and various desserts with beet juice. It helps keep their customers guessing how they will use those bulbous veggies next.
The student chefs derive their inspiration from their very own kitchens as well as from admired food bloggers. There is something very empowering about a group of students coming together to provide a wholesome meal and an invaluable education about food. After all, food is more than mere sustenance, it should be enjoyed and shared with those we care about, which are two ideas central to the Slow Food dining experience.
The café atmosphere reflects their mission statement. Located in the basement of The Crossing Church on the corner of University Avenue and Charter Street, the café is in the heart of campus and set-up with a laid back, simple décor, much like their no-fuss lunches. The staff is warm and welcoming, while the café itself is bustling with chatter amongst friends who stopped for a quick bite between classes. The interns and volunteers deliver the food swiftly, but no waiter or waitress hangs over your shoulder urging you to quickly finish your plate to free the table. It really is slow food after all!
If you have yet to check out the Slow Food Café, the trip is well worth it. The meal will satiate your taste buds and introduce you to unique dishes made with ingredients you would have never dreamed of using for between $5 and $10. A college student scraping by on a meager budget couldn’t ask for more.
Address: The Crossing (in the basement rec room): 1127 University Ave, Madison, WI 53703
Hours of operation: Wed: 11:30 am to 2:00 pm