2021 Best of Madison Editors’ Picks

Our editorial team picked some businesses, initiatives and people that have stood out over the past year.
Editors Picks
Courtesy of businesses

Our editors couldn’t let readers have all the fun this year. Our editorial team, comprised of editor Andrea Behling and associate editors Maggie Ginsberg and Maija Inveiss, picked some businesses, initiatives and people that have stood out over the past year. The Best of Madison has remained a reader-chosen list for four decades. But after the challenging year we all just had, our team decided to highlight a few extras.

See the Best of Madison 2021 Readers’ poll results here.

Fresh Cool Drinks
Best Giant Spring Rolls

person receiving a big spring roll from a food truck

Photo by Amy Stocklein

When I see the food carts pop up on Library Mall at the first sign of warm weather, I beeline straight to the Fresh Cool Drinks cart. Fresh Cool Drinks has a long list of smoothies, but the highlight on the menu is the avocado spring roll. It takes two hands to tackle one of these bad boys, which are sized more like a burrito than a traditional spring roll. Each one is packed with avocado, rice noodles, cucumber, carrots, cabbage, spinach, spicy peanut sauce and a protein of your choice (options include shrimp, chicken, pork, sausage and tofu — I usually opt for tofu). There is almost always a long line; but don’t let that discourage you, it’s worth the wait. It’s also one of the most reasonably priced lunch options you’ll find. Library Mall –MI

Christine’s Kitchens
Best Innovative Collaborator

Christine Ameigh

Courtesy of Christine Ameigh

When the pandemic shuttered food businesses overnight, Christine Ameigh sprang into action — and brought her fellow small business owners with her. The founder of Christine’s Kitchens and Slide Gourmet Potato Chips not only pivoted to online ordering and home delivery, she also partnered with Madison Eats Food Tours, FEED Kitchens and the city’s MarketReady program to organize deliveries for more than 60 equally hard-hit small businesses. christines-kitchens.com –MG

Finca Coffee
Best Salvadoran Quesadilla

Finca Coffee's salvadoran quesadilla with a cold brew

Photo by Nicole Peaslee

When editor Andrea Behling told me about Finca Coffee’s Salvadoran quesadillas after her first visit, I knew I needed to try one for myself. And ever since my first bite, it’s been a constant craving of mine. The hand-held treats are served in place of coffeecake, so they pair incredibly well with a cup of coffee. The word “quesadilla” may elicit images of Mexican-style quesadillas made with tortillas, but Finca Coffee’s rendition more closely resembles a cake-like sweet cornbread. The south-side coffee shop opened in 2019 and since then has made its quesadillas from scratch daily using queso duro, butter, eggs, sour cream and sugar. There’s nothing quite like starting off my morning with one (or three) quesadillas and a glass of cold brew. 2500 Rimrock Road, 285-9230, fincamadison.com –MI

Food Insecurity Fighters
Best Meal

three people giving out meals

Illustration by Tommy Washbush

I’ll be the first to tell you about some of the best meals I’ve had in Madison, but this award doesn’t go to a fancy five-course or five-star meal. Our award for “best meal” goes to any one of the thousands of thoughtfully crafted free meals made for people experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic. In addition to the herculean efforts of food pantries, school districts, places of worship and YMCAs that provide free meals to Madison-area people, three programs made it a mission to get prepared food into the hands of as many as possible amid COVID-19. The Northside Planning Council and FEED Kitchen’s FEED to Go created and distributed 30,200 meals between March and early July 2020, Sunshine Supper (co-founded and coordinated by Julie Wiedmeyer and volunteers) created 25,900 free meals last year and chef-run Cook It Forward made 15,000 free meals in 2020. That’s more than 71,000 meals combined. All three programs drew on the talents of local chefs, who were able to keep people employed in the process. While Sunshine Supper was founded in 2011, both FEED to Go and Cook It Forward were launched in 2020 in direct response to the pandemic. Initiatives such as these show the very best side of Madison’s food scene. That certainly deserves five stars in our eyes. –AB

Frostwood Farms Kitchen
Best Under-the-Radar To-Go Kit

lemon parfait and a tarte

Courtesy of Frostwood Farms by Taylor Quade

Frostwood Farms Kitchen is a gorgeous commercial kitchen and event space that’s been hiding in plain sight in Middleton for eight years. I lived in Middleton for three years and drove past it on a daily basis, but only discovered it after the launch of Frostwood to Go. When COVID-19 halted its corporate food events and catering, Frostwood — which also provides jobs for youth, tends its own garden and donates food to local pantries through its associated St. Isidore Garden — began offering curated, seasonal dinner and dessert menus, plus themed signature dessert boxes. Everything is crafted by their culinary experts, executive chef Chris Cubberley, executive pastry chef Nancy Christy and pastry chef Ellen Coatney. It might be the best takeout experience you’ll find in town. I’m kind of kicking myself for telling you all about it. 8225 Greenway Blvd., Middleton, 829-1700, frostwoodfarms.com –AB

Cafe CODA
Best Jazz Club

Hanah Jon Taylor playing the flute in Cafe CODA

Photo by Larry Chua

Jazz found a home at Cafe CODA once Hanah Jon Taylor (pictured) opened the club’s doors in 2019. After years of trying to find a permanent spot, it settled in on Williamson Street. Taylor has lived in Madison for nearly 30 years and has made a name for himself as a legendary jazz saxophonist, flutist and wind synthesizer player. His years of experience have helped him book jazz musicians from around the world. In adapting to COVID-19, Taylor introduced Cafe CODA Premium so people could livestream upcoming concerts and rewatch past performances. In the morning, the jazz club turns into Jazz Cafe offering drinks and brunch. Taylor also passes along his knowledge of improvisation through his Cool School workshops. 1224 Williamson St., 298-7831, cafecoda.club –MI

“Madison Murals” Website + “Let’s Talk About It” Book
Best Time Capsule Efforts

book of murals

Courtesy of “Lets Talk About It Book”

In the wake of 2020’s protests against racial injustice, State Street transformed into a veritable art gallery when hundreds of local artists painted murals on boarded-up windows. Thankfully, two efforts emerged to document the temporary display. Omega School Principal Oscar Mireles was inspired to create the “Madison Murals” website, and Judge Everett Mitchell encouraged the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact to partner with the Madison Arts Commission to publish the “Let’s Talk About It” book — which nabbed numerous national Indie Book Awards in May and is now available for free download. Just as so many artists captured an aftermath of despair, resiliency and hope, the website’s creators and the book’s photographers and writers preserved a pivotal moment in Madison’s history — one for the books, indeed. madisonmurals.com, bit.ly/3hpYCFK –MG

OhYa Studio
Best Day-Brighteners

two artists in front of the "Hold On To Hope" Mural

Courtesy of OhYa Studio

The indefatigable optimism of the folks behind the muralist collective OhYa Studio is infectious. Artists Ray Mawst (below left) and Brian Kehoe (below right), along with former member Emily Balsley, have brought bright jolts of joy to the many murals they’ve created around town, all of which share a common theme: hope. “Stronger Together” on a boarded up Little Luxuries, “This Too Shall Pass” on Monona Drive, “I Wish You Love and Happiness” on Strictly Discs’ sidewall, “Hold on to Hope” on Oriental Food Mart’s exterior (below) — the messages are as smile-inducing as the designs are eye-catching. OhYa’s work is all over the place now, and we’re excited to see what comes next. The city is happy their paintbrushes are perpetually dripping with kindness. ohyastudio.com –AB

Bob’s Auto Detailing
Best Worker of Car-Cleaning Miracles

illustration of someone cleaning a car

Illustration by Tommy Washbush

After my dogs continually trashed my trusty Subaru Forester with their muddy, pond-soaked, furry, slobbery selves, I kind of gave up. Somewhere along the way I started looking past the caked-on fur and the vague smells. But my husband wasn’t having it, so he hired a pleasant, ordinary-seeming man who turned out to be a miracle worker: Bob Rohowetz of Bob’s Auto Detailing. Rohowetz drove 30 minutes each way to pick up my filthy car in the morning and returned it looking and smelling brand new, just as the sun was setting — then spent another 20 minutes in my driveway polishing it while he told me how perfect this job is for him. I couldn’t agree more. bobsautodetailing.com, 341-6363 –MG

Petphoria
Best Dog Treats

treats coming out of a container

Courtesy of Petphoria

Grace Wang set out to create luxury dog treats with her chief barking officer, Beni the Yorkie, in mind. Petphoria uses simple and organic ingredients to create treats that receive a doggy stamp of approval. Each package comes with a little card specifying who made and packaged your goodies. Flavors include coconut apple bites, pup-kin spice, salmon jerky and sweet potato bake. Since launching her business in December, Wang has also introduced apparel and dog toys, and she opened a shop in July at Hilldale. 706 N. Midvale Blvd., shoppetphoria.com –MI

A Peace of Lovelace
Best Smudge Sticks

Smudge Sticks

Courtesy of A Peace of Lovelace/Nahara Studios

Tamisha Binion’s business, A Peace of Lovelace, is all about promoting healing, self-care, good energy and positive vibes. I’ll be honest — that’s all I want after this past year, so bring on Binion’s floral sage smudge sticks, which are meant to help improve mood, purify a space and remove negative energies and airborne bacteria. Binion, who has also published a poetry book and sells other items in her online shop, is known for her smudge sticks wrapped in petals and hemp cord, sometimes accompanied by palo santo sticks or a healing stone in a few of her collections. She started burning sage before launching the business in 2018 when she needed help finding herself again. She discovered the benefits and knew she had to help others do the same. “Even if it meant to share a piece of myself to give other women peace, this is what the universe wants me to do,” Binion says. It’s the confident, kind, peaceful aura for me. apeaceoflovelace.com –AB

Czar’s Promise
Best Show of Solidarity for Pets With Cancer

dog wearing a Czar's Promise bandana

Courtesy of Czar’s Promise

I’d never heard of local nonprofit Czar’s Promise until my sweet dog, Sully — otherwise known as our July 2020 cover model and A VERY GOOD BOY — was diagnosed with cancer. I’d just gotten used to the idea of suddenly living with a pandemic-inspired 87-pound rescue dog from Alabama when I had to get used to the possibility of not living with him. It’s a heartbreaking, ongoing saga, but one of the ways in which I’ve felt less alone is the care shown by Czar’s Promise, a volunteer organization founded by Beth Viney that helps people pay for their pets’ cancer treatments and also funds cancer research for animals and human kids. 235-7269, czarspromise.com –MG

Forward Madison FC
Best Use of Our Official City Bird

Christian Diaz, along with other players of Forward Madison FC and flamingos

Courtesy of Forward Madison FC

This may or may not come as a surprise, but the official bird of the city of Madison as of 2009 is, in fact, a plastic flamingo. Forward Madison, our city’s USL League One soccer team, has taken Madison’s love of flamingos to a new level by elevating their prominence as part of the team logo and embracing the nickname The Flamingos. Planet Propaganda, which designed the logo, and the management team at Forward Madison aimed to infuse local symbols into the branding to make it a team representing the community. The independent supporters of the team are called The Flock in collaboration with the team’s name. The love of ‘mingos fills Breese Stevens Field on game day, from spirit wear to the mid-match inflatable flamingo race and The Flock’s signs to Vintage Brewing Co.’s Irruption Pale Ale available at concession stands. forwardmadisonfc.com –MI

View the 458 businesses in our Best of Madison 2021 readers’ poll.

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