The Restaurant Sampler

The Sampler at
Muddy Boots Cafe

It’s high time someone paid homage to the thing that makes Brown County brown—and that is that wonderful, useful, colorful, pesky, unavoidable substance known locally as “mud”.

That’s right, mud.

When you make pots out of it and sell them to tourists for city-high prices, you may call it “clay”, but when you’re scraping it off of your boots on the back porch in November, its nothing but plain old mud.

And when I saw the name of the new café up on Van Buren Street, “The Muddy Boots Café,” I immediately thought how apt a name that was for a little coffee and sandwich spot culturally rooted and comfortable enough to tolerate the occasional occurrence of footwear soiled by good old soft, wet, Brown County clay.

Accordingly, I gathered up my bride and headed down to the historic brick building at 136 North Van Buren Street (once photographed by Hohenberger) to visit the Muddy Boots Café.

In the professional dining game, one must be able to pick up on promising signs, however small, to “read the tea leaves” and even the coffee grounds, when sniffing out a new location to haunt, inhabit, and make one’s own particular “hang out.”

All the signs at the Middy Boots were good indeed, starting with the sign hanging out front with its three-dimensional carved boots sticking out from the placard—a nice artistic touch for an artistic town. Then there were the signs for the gourmet novelty coffees like “Wake the Dead Coffee” with a cartoon of a graveyard.

The space is bright and open with a wonderful tangerine/pumpkin color on the walls and strewn with casual tables and chairs with an un-matched welcoming air. There are plenty of nice nooks and crannies to read a book, play chess, work a puzzle, or just catch up with an old friend over a nice cup of Joe.

At the center of the room is an old fashioned counter and a few spinning stools fronting a kind of coffee island crammed with all the contraptions and machinery familiar to a backwoods barista; things that go woosh! And flughhmmmmmm! And spurt out a nice espresso or a decent cappuccino.

Fronting this coffee enclave is a baked goods case plump with muffins, tortes, Danish, and cakes, the tasty rainbow lurking at meal’s end.

The menu is light, simple, and delicious.

We started with the Muddy Bean Soup with a slice of cornbread, which I found homey and somehow comforting.

The homemade daily special was a tuna croquette on rice with lovely hollandaise sauce. I cadged a bite from my partner’s plate, and found it outstanding.

For some reason, I found myself drawn to the chicken salad on a croissant, although the fresh flaky albacore tuna salad also tempted. Each is also available served over lettuce with fresh fruit and bread.

Also on the regular menu is a nice veggie pita with hummus, cucumber, avocado, and red onion on a black bean veggie burger with a slice of cheese and some chips.

Naturally, one would enjoy a sample of the whole menu, but a taste of the black bean or chicken burrito or the curried vegetables and rice will just have to wait for a future visit.

Everything was fresh, tasty, and promptly served.

There are also light breakfast offerings; cinnamon raisin, everyseed, onion, spinach and even plain bagles with a variety of cream cheese choices (strawberry, maple raisin, and veggie lite).

The place features high speed internet access, de rigueur for the modern day coffee house and on weekend evenings often serves up live, acoustic-style music from local music luminaries the likes of Kara Barnard.

All in all, it’s as comfortable as an old boot.

And, if you have a sweet tooth, a little hankering for something luscious with your bitter black brew, you have tromped your soiled little shoes into the right café.

There are almond and chocolate croissants, of course, and black and tan cake. Of muffins there is no shortage—pumpkin cream cheese, vegan carrot, banana nut, and orange poppyseed, to name a few.

There’s blueberry cheese danish and, appropriately, coffee cake.

But without a doubt, the “Thing You Must Have,” the thing to which you will soon become accustomed, then addicted, the thing which should at all costs be avoided if you have a strict diet and a weak will, is the Mud Pie Cup, a devilish dessert of chocolate torte covered in a thin crust of chocolate; kind of a tiny little chocolate-chocolate soufflé.

Choco-holics beware! Don’t even go in there.

If absolutely necessary, it is suggested that you avert your eyes from the dessert case at all times, lest an ill-advised glance lead to a binge of epic proportions.

I sipped my coffee and carefully spooned tiny bits of the scrumptious sweetie into my pie hole.

I studied the art on the walls, contemplated my fellow patrons, and browsed the various coffees, gifts, and gee-gaws offered for the insightful shopper.

And I was profoundly satisfied.