By Grace Edquist
For a restaurant that started as a joke among three twenty-somethings in late 2006, Alchemy Café is one impressive quip.
After Wonder's Pub at Schenk's Corners on the near east side closed a year later, pals Michael Randall, Amanda Versch and Josh Wacker saw the opportunity to turn their dream of opening up their own place into reality.
So things got a little more serious (but not too serious), and the trio launched the Alchemy in March 2008. Since then, the neighborhood hangout has been elevating pub fare and promoting local musicians, artists and—of course—food, to anyone who walks through their doors.
Far from the stereotype of greasy burgers and deep-fried everything, the Alchemy aims to have "something everyone can be comfortable eating," Randall says. Sure, you'll find burgers on the menu, but options include one with bison meat and another smothered with habanero basil aioli. Side options include fries, but you could also get their famous wasabi green beans at no extra charge. Or, to go beyond the standard pub fare, opt for the BLFT (pictured above) with honey-glazed bacon, beer-battered and fried tomato (ergo the "F") and green peppercorn aioli. For the meat-weary, there are also delicious vegetarian dishes—like the standout stuffed grilled cheese made with broccoli, roasted carrots and tomato. Many menu items can be prepared gluten-free or vegan as well.
In addition to churning out delicious and socially responsible food, Randall says the goal of the Alchemy is to create a space in which community members have a stake. That's why they pay the musicians but don't charge a cover, hang local art commission-free and promote their neighboring establishments.
"For us, it's not a trend, or even a choice," Randall says. "It's simply the right thing to do."
Grace Edquist is associate/web editor of Madison Magazine.
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