Review published June 2005
CUSTOMERS PASS THROUGH Gigi’s Café day and night, steady as the No. 4 bus running up and down nearby Bryant Avenue. Do they come for the coffee? For the food? For the wine and brews seemingly plucked from Jonny Lang’s refrigerator: Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Wisconsin’s Capital 1900, and one called simply Mojo? (He’s dropped the “Kid,” but is Jonny even old enough to drink?) Likely, patrons are there for all three—the triple play of coffeehouse, café, and wine bar.
On a weekday morning at Gigi’s (named after the owner’s grandmother), a woman in a pink suede jacket takes out a pair of reading glasses and works her way through a crossword puzzle. A laptop and a mug sit on an unoccupied table next to a pile of manuscripts and tomes, including one titled How to Write a Book Proposal. Sun streams through the windows as a Belle and Sebastian track plays on the stereo. In the adjacent room, a Diego Rivera nude worships a basket of calla lilies against the warm bronze walls, and a table of four women hums with conversation and the soft click-click of knitting needles.
The reason people tend to linger at Gigi’s is that it fulfills the coffee shop habitué’s biggest need: after a few hours of working, reading, or chatting, sometimes you yearn for more sustenance than a brownie or a muffin can deliver. (And, if you’re already hopped up on caffeine, sweets may not be the best idea anyway.)
Gigi’s deli case is packed with a changing array of salads, soups, and sandwiches that are at once homey and worldly: a buttery and spicy curry cauliflower soup, a peanut-dressed red cabbage coleslaw, an herbed turkey sandwich, a puff pastry stuffed with pear, walnut, Gorgonzola—popular salad fixings recombined in totable form. Other recommended dishes include the tarts, which have impressively flaky crusts, and a fully loaded tamale pie that’s studded with black beans, corn, and peppers and served with a side of chunky, cilantro-flecked salsa. Thankfully, the counter staff freely gives samples if you’re having trouble deciding.
The baked goods at Gigi’s are also homemade. Oversize scones get that unique creamy/crumbly texture just right. The World’s Best Cookie—crisp on the outside, soft in the middle, packed with raisins, coconut, and breakfast cereal—is stellar, though Gigi’s chocolate chip cookie might compete for the title. The aptly named Hummingbird Cake flies off the shelf; it’s moist, sweet, and spicy—the best of banana bread and carrot cake combined, smothered with an obscene amount of cream cheese frosting.
You may want to spend a whole day at Gigi’s as a way to relax and recharge. Come for breakfast, stay for lunch, nurse a cup of tea throughout the afternoon, then eat dinner and wind down with a glass of wine. Repeat—or retreat—as often as necessary.