The community welcomed the news a few weeks ago that Madison’s Cafe was staying open. The bright, yellow cafe in downtown South Berwick employs intellectually and developmentally disabled young people and promotes itself as a place “where all people matter.”
Last year, York County Community College gave Madison’s its employer of the year award.
Despite its noble mission and community standing, the cafe was slated to close. The owners cited “a perfect storm” of conditions, including a lack of parking, too much overhead and not enough business. But the community rallied, and an online fundraising campaign raised nearly $13,000 to keep the cafe open another year.
Announcing the good news, co-owner Nicole McCoomb promised changes at the cafe to improve the business plan and urged people in the community to stop in and try the food. I took her up on it, choosing a cold December morning to swing by for a breakfast sandwich on my way to work in Portland. I was sorry to see the cafe was empty when I arrived a few minutes after 8 a.m. but pleased to find a bright and cheerful ambiance. The cafe was warm and welcoming, McCoomb proved an easy conversationalist and the food was exceptionally good.
The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, and offers a nice mix of egg dishes for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, all made with locally sourced ingredients. It’s a counter-service cafe, with an easy-to-read chalkboard menu on the wall over the register and clean, well-ordered counters and cases of pastries and beverages. The dining area is well lit and comfortable.
I opted for the Knight Hawk, a breakfast sandwich with two eggs, cheese and a choice of meat on a bagel ($5.95). I went with bacon.
I was tempted by the Powder House, with scrambled eggs, spicy cream cheese, salsa, pepper-jack cheese and meat in a grilled tortilla. The homemade sausage gravy and biscuits also wooed me. The prices are very reasonable; the most costly breakfast item is eggs Benedict with corned beef, for $11.50. Most items are $6 or less, including two eggs and toast for $3.95.
With a coffee, my breakfast cost $8.21 with tax, and the breakfast bagel was one of the better ones I’ve had lately. The bagel was chewy, the eggs cooked through so the yolk was slightly runny, the bacon crisp and especially salty, and the cheese gooey. It’s a simple sandwich to do well, but I was nonetheless impressed with the execution.
The presentation was a bit bland, with the sandwich served an over-large plate that looked empty.
The successful breakfast sandwich makes me curious about lunch. The Salmon Falls looks interesting: tomato, basil, red onion, fresh water mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette on toasted sourdough ($7.95). The Hunter sounds a little like Thanksgiving, with smoked turkey and bacon, Granny Smith apple, cream de brie and cranberry mayo on cranberry orange bread. Or how about the SoBo Chicken Salad, which is mixed with basil, lemon, sour cream and mayo and topped with red onion and tomato? My wife might like the Vaughn Woods Vegan, with hummus, lettuce, tomato, red onion and avocado.
There are salads and a decent menu for kids, for both breakfast and lunch.
It says a lot about the community that it rallied around this local business in a time of need. It will say a lot more if the rally continues and Madison’s stays open on the merits of its food and the support of its customers.
WHERE: 12 Portland St., South Berwick; (207) 704-0647 or madisonscafeofmaine.com
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
WAIT: About five minutes
PARKING: On the street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes