Sunday, March 25, 2007

Great Grape!

Okay, just in case you thought I'd descended into full-time melancholy, I'm back with another honest-to-goodness review without any hint of existential crisis! As part of my week in Madison, I thought it would be appropriate to review one of my favorite places back home. I called the delightful M., my favorite luncheon counterpart in the Mad City, and she wasn't so bogged down by a certain healthcare IT company to come out and play for a little while. I suggested Grape and Company, an independent wine shop no larger than your average pantry. It's located, nay, hidden, on the west side of town (right by where my folks live, in fact) in a little strip mall that houses such rarities as Atlanta Bread Company and the Madison Public Library. Well, my dad likes the library, and I confess to a certain fondness for any kind of hearty soup in a bread bowl, so...

Anyway. Grape and Company. Good little place, I've always made a point to stop by whenever I'm in town for the sage advice of Jack, the owner-resident wine expert-fresh mozzarella technician who owns the place. Jack and his wife moved to Madison from New York (which might as well be Istanbul or Djibouti, for all the cosmopolitan graces most Madisonians lack) for some unknown reason (ostensibly to bring solid wine knowledge and delicious pastries to an otherwise culture-starved population). I'm glad they did, whatever the reason, because Grape is one of the most delightful shops I know. There was a time when I still lived in Madison that I would make a weekly (or twice, even thrice, weekly) venture to Grape, if only to shoot the breeze with Jack. Yeah, right. It's impossible for me to leave Target empty-handed, much less a store full to the brim with delicious wines, melt-in-your-mouth confectionaries, and a variety of cheese that intimidate even the most sage cheeseophile (if there's an actual word for this, 1) please don't tell me, and 2) I really don't care).

In any case, I'd usually stroll in, glance about, read a few of the wonderfully descriptive tags that adorn each bottle of wine and pronounce the libations Bold, Big, Refreshing, Sweet, and the like, and then defer to the man behind the counter's better judgment. He would point out one or two I hadn't even seen lurking behind the cab I was holding, and I couldn't say no. There were a couple times I actually bought the place out of a certain riesling because I'd heard it was going out of production. Yeah, I'd heard that rumor three or four times and went into panic each time, snatching up at least half a dozen bottles like it was Wine2K (Jesus, I just thought of that, and it's probably the most hilarious thing I've ever written. I'm tempted to put it in bold). I still have one bottle left, but that's another story...

So yeah, M. and I went over to Grape because I'd heard the served lunch, and I was dying to try it. We arrived to Jack's smiling face and engaging chit-chat, then took a couple minutes to peruse the wines, cheese, and smallish sandwich and specials menu. M. ordered a turkey with Irish cheddar and raspberry dijon mustard on a flour-dusted sourdough roll. I held out until they offered me the pizza special - traditional Neopolitan-style margherita with freshly-made dough, pungent basil, thick-sliced, vine-ripe tomatoes, and some of Jack's trademark mozzarella.

M. and I sat in the back, at the counter by the oven, and were treated to the sight of my pizza cooking away until the clarion *ding* of the oven timer. The savory rectangle placed before me, I set on the simply-dressed field greens and sipped a glass of Pillar Box Red, a subtle shiraz-cab-merlot blend that played on the sweet undertones of the merlot while allowing the spice of the shiraz to show through in a slightly dampened fashion. All in all, simply delicious.

I was sad not to have enough room for a nibble of honeyed goat cheese or a marzipan fruit, but I trust I'll be back soon enough. Grape was, as always, great atmosphere, nice people, and delicious wine and food.

Grape and Company
745 N. Highpoint Rd.
Madison, WI 53717
(608) 831-8900

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