Dining and Drink

No reservation needed: 3 dinner plans to try

Try Casetta meals, Pasture & Plenty or delecTable

In a foodie town like Madison, there is never a shortage of new restaurant openings or old stand-by favorite eateries. It’s easy to make a reservation and know you are going to have a great dining experience. But if you’re anything like me, every once in a while, you want something different—a new way to get dinner on the table fast or a culinary experience worth celebrating. Here are three new food businesses that can make dinner plans easier (and a whole lot more fun).

1. A take home dinner (and bottle of wine) from Casetta Kitchen & Counter
Casetta Kitchen & Counter is doing a lot of things right. The Italian American sandwich line up is small but mighty, the pasta e fagioli soup has quite the following with it’s delicious balance of Italian sausage, beans and tomatoes, and the wine list is filled with bottles sure to impress. Chef and co-owner Tommy Gering is creating the four-course Friday night dinner options—and they’re starting to sell out regularly. With a new menu every week and entrees like coriander and fennel fried chicken or crab, bay scallop and Thai chili risotto, it’s no surprise these dinners have been a hit.

And stopping into this gorgeous space right off the Square to pick up dinner is a plus. The high ceilings, subway tile and elegant wooden benches speak for themselves; this is a place you want to spend time in. December at Casetta is booked solid with after-hours private events.

But perhaps what I love most about this innovative young business is something many have yet to experience: take-home pasta dinners available every day of the week except Sunday (when Casetta is closed). Monday through Friday, you can pop in on your way home from work to grab baked ziti for two ($16) served in an aluminum pan that finishes cooking in your oven. Wednesday through Saturday, eggplant and chicken Parmesan ($18 and $20, respectively) are added to the take-home dinner menu. Guests who swing by on a Thursday evenings can enjoy a $15 wine tasting from 4-7 p.m. before grabbing a meal to go.

To co-owner James Juedes, adding take-home dinners to the restaurant’s offerings seemed like a no brainer. “Being in an office building, there are a lot of busy people often looking for a quick option for their families,” Juedes says. The idea that you can grab a delicious meal for your family (and a bottle of wine) before you even start your commute is brilliant.

For now, Gering and Juedes are content with three take-home dinner offerings.

“We have rotated in a few different [meals],” Juedes says. “The ziti, eggplant and chicken Parm [have been] really popular, so we’re going to keep doing those, but I think more and more people are just discovering [the service] is available.” As the dinners grow in popularity, he says, him and Gering might add another take-home meal to the menu, so stay tuned for additional offerings. casettakitchen.com

2. A cooking class or culinary event at delecTable
“Culinary Dinner Theater” is the name Justin Gibson came up with when he decided to open a kitchen, bar and dining area inside his flagship vomFASS store on University Avenue. He hired executive chef Kristin Williams to prepare multi-course meals in the space for expectant, watchful diners. In these Saturday dinners held twice per month at delecTable, the chef is the main attraction.

Twenty-eight guests sit at tables pointed toward the front of the room to watch Williams and her team prepare each course. Three big screen televisions give folks a closer view. Sommeliers and mixologists standing by are there to enhance the meal. It’s described as a dining experience that is as much interactive as it is delicious.

But that’s not the only fun event to try at the recently opened delecTable. Cooking classes, tasting events and workshops round out the calendar of this busy kitchen. Classes are designed for 12 students who work in groups of four at individual stations. There is beer, wine and a full bar available during classes to keep you hydrated while testing out new cooking skills and techniques.

“People have been craving a more experiential way to connect around food and drink,” owner Justin Gibson explains. “Our vision with delecTable is to take all this interest and engagement to the next level. Whether our guests are cooking a meal, tasting wine or observing a professional chef in action, we cultivate our offerings in the hopes they’ll gather, linger and savor, as well as be entertained and inspired.”

The upcoming month features broad topics: a baking class on croissants, a tour of Scotland, a Russian River Valley wine dinner and a yoga, aromatherapy, chocolate and liqueur tasting. Check out the events calendar on the website to see upcoming happenings and purchase tickets for events. delectablexp.com

3. A weekly meal kit from Pasture & Plenty
As hard as we all try, getting a healthy, locally sourced and delicious dinner on the table every night of the week just isn’t realistic. We all want good food. But we also want to have a life. Enter Pasture & Plenty: the meal kit subscription service that recently opened on University Avenue in September. The vision is simple (and beautiful). Bring farm-to-table eating directly to your home through a combination of prepared meals and cook kits.

“I love to cook from scratch,” owner Christy McKenzie says, “but with a busy schedule, the reality is I don’t have time to cook every night.” She found that her family was making compromises in their weekly routine more than thay wanted to. “[My husband and I] looked at each other and said there has got to be a better way; there has to be another solution and way to connect people with farms that works for a modern, urban lifestyle,” she says. The vision for the business was about trying to plan a service that reflected how her family was eating and how they knew a lot of their friends’ families were eating.

Meal kits are currently available as a four-week subscription. Customers order online by Tuesday for delivery the following week selecting both for quantity (feeds one, two or four) and dietary preference (omnivore or vegetarian). On Mondays, subscribers receive instructions and a canvas bag filled with food packed into reusable Pyrex containers and mason jars.

There are three meals: a meal that only needs to be heated up, a meal that needs to be prepared and a frozen meal that can be stashed away for another time. A sample weekly menu included squash stuffed with sausage and roasted beets (ready to eat), grilled cheese with herb butter and tomato soup (to prepare), and an elegant lasagna with beef, butternut squash, eggplant, zucchini and red peppers (frozen). Kits can be picked up at the Pasture & Plenty storefront on University Avenue (which also offers weekday lunch and Wednesday night dinners) or at neighborhood drop sites throughout Madison. Home delivery in select parts of Madison are also available for an additional fee.

It’s local eating made simple. And it’s incredibly delicious. Visit Pasture & Plenty’s website to learn more. pastureandplenty.com

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