Smart grab and go at Portage Pi

Smart grab and go at Portage Pi
Pining for pie: The Wisconsin Pi (left front) and the banana s’more pie; food and beverage director Ted Devitt (left) and executive chef Christopher Cubberley.

The backstory: A bright feature of the Graduate Hotel in Madison is its delightful café, Portage Pi. Easily confused for the Wisconsin city, the name portage actually comes from the act of carrying canoes, and pi is a clever take on the menu’s main attraction—pies. “Restaurants and bars don’t need to be so serious,” says Ted Devitt, food and beverage director and a Whitewater native. “[The owners] take pleasure in silly things and I think that’s fantastic.”

The vibe: Wisconsin kitsch comes to mind with custom lighting made out of canoes and toy trucks. A long eye-catching communal table creates a natural spot for gatherings.

The food: Executive chef Christopher Cubberley brings his expertise from Chicago and elevates handmade pies with local ingredients. His made-to-order meals are often created by what’s available at the farmers’ market.

The must-try: Devitt favors the breakfast Wisconsin Pi with local eggs, cheese curds and ham. Cubberley leans toward the short rib pie. And don’t even try turning down a banana s’more pie for dessert. A farmers’ market salad and fresh bluto juice with apple, pineapple, coconut and mint are also delicious choices.

The bottom line: Portage Pi is a great grab-and-go option but easily doubles as a chipper hangout spot. The food and the flair get an A-plus. “How can you not enjoy yourself in a place like this?” asks Devitt. “We are far from ‘too cool for school’ and we’re here to have a lot of fun.”