Ripple Effect

Culinary Co-op: Robinia Courtyard
By Rachel Werner | Photographed by Josh Witzel

Head to Robinia Courtyard and you’ll find a hipster café connected to an intimate wine bar connected to a restaurant serving lavish Southern cuisine. The cooperative venture is an urban foodie’s amusement park.

Located on East Washington Avenue, on Madison’s Near East Side, Robinia Courtyard houses A-OK coffee house, Barolo wine bar and Julep restaurant. Seven managing partners oversee the three entities and one chef, Aaron Mooney, develops the recipes for all three establishments.

A-OK owner Kyle Johnson—known for his Johnson Public House—is thrilled to have another coffee shop in a different section of the city that’s being revitalized. “Like East Johnson Street, East Washington is being developed by new investors and it’s very exciting to be a part of this great collaboration with other small business owners each providing a unique dining experience to the community,” he says.

And, they welcome guests at Robinia at all hours. In fact, you can pull up a stool to at least one of the collective’s three bars almost any time of the day or night.

Brunch, burgers and fresh bakery items are the mainstays of A-OK’s mini-menu and Barolo’s weekly flatbread and dessert offerings, though limited, leave you clamoring for every last morsel (don’t miss the “No Name” layered desserts, constructed of brandy-poached pears, blueberry pancetta and salted-almond caramel).

Barolo’s wine list is its star, though, offering rare gems not often found in the Midwest—European reds like Gamay, Marzemino and Nerello Mascalese and white varietals such as Jacquere, Verdelho and Grechetto. Co-owner Lucas Balamuth encourages wine novices and aficionadas alike to sample around the list, seizing the opportunity to “see how the soil in various regions blossoms into different notes of the same grape.”

As much as Barolo is about discovering terroir, Julep is all about exploring roots. From the entrées to the bar list, Southern classics are en vogue here, starting with piping hot cast-iron cornbread, massive buttermilk biscuits and jars of sweet tea that’ll make toes curl. Grilled Virginia Oysters are tenderized on wood chips, and the Nashville Salad comes adorned with fried pig’s ears. Bar manager Mariah Renz’s cocktails are a fanciful throwback to the pre-Prohibition era—heavily laced with bourbon or rye whiskey, such as the potent Monkey Gland, or the playful after-dinner Pecan Milk Punch, topped off with house-made pecan-cello.

Julep’s proprietor Sarah Kinser is confident all three co-op businesses have a good thing going. “Our property has an old-town riverfront feel to it. Elegant, sexy and a little Southern vibe.” Madison foodies will agree: This culinary playground is a good thing. Robinia Courtyard, Madison.

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