Imagine eating lunch in a railroad depot. Well, it’s not actually a depot today, but the site of one many years ago. Conjure up the mental picture of a spoonful of thick, creamy crab soup warming your soul on a chilly winter day. Okay, I admit, with our unseasonably warm weather, winter is still months away. However, one thing is true. Strawberry Cafe in Madison is one of the best places to enjoy lunch, dinner, or brunch in the fall, winter, spring or summer.
Madison’s first restaurant has withstood the test of time and continues to serve delicious soups, sandwiches, entrees, and brunch items in the original spot in which it opened in 1983. Looking around Madison today, it’s hard to believe there was actually a time when the town, now thriving city, didn’t have a restaurant.
The original owners of Strawberry Cafe had the foresight to open the restaurant in the historic railroad district. Given Madison’s early reputation for growing juicy strawberries and distributing them by train, thus putting the town on the map, finding a name for the restaurant was easy.
Fast forward 35 years and present owners Stephen Wade and Ashley and Eric Bach are continuing the early traditions of personal service and homemade food while continuing to add new items and expanding to weekend brunch. It’s a combination that has caused the restaurant to thrive in an increasingly competitive market filled with a plethora of family-owned and chain restaurants.
Now, back to the soup I first mentioned. A Madison friend introduced me years ago to Strawberry Cafe after I expressed a desire for warm, soothing soup to take the edge off a cold winter day. After sampling the restaurant’s signature cream of crab soup ($4.99 for a cup, $7.99 for a bowl), I was an instant fan of both the soup and the cozy restaurant. For those that prefer other varieties of soup, you’re in luck. Soups of the day ($3.99-cup, $6.99-bowl) include chicken vegetable, French onion, and apple and tomato basil, to name a few.
If you’re in the mood for a little something more, there’s a variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees on the lunch menu.
Appetizers include a pita melt ($6.99), spinach and artichoke dip ($7.49), crab cake ($14.99), fried oysters ($11.99), and the most popular choice, fried green tomatoes ($13.99). Salads range from Caesar ($3.74 and $7.49) to shrimp remoulade ($13.49) to the aptly-named strawberry fields ($12.99).
Sandwiches reflecting the city and its history include the train car ($12.99), a delicious combination of chopped prime rib, fried shrimp, sautéed peppers and onions, melted provolone, and vegetables on French bread; juicy Depot burger ($10.99), and Madison Station ($10.49). This creation consists of pita bread filled with grilled turkey, bacon, melted Swiss, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and avocados.
Lunch entrees include shrimp etouffee ($12.99), General Tso’s ($12.49), shrimp and grits ($13.49), chicken tenders ($9.99), and a crowd favorite, pasta Creole ($13.99). It’s a zesty dish filled with shrimp, crab, green onions, tomatoes, cream sauce, and bowtie pasta.
Daily specials ($9.99) rotate between roast and gravy, meatloaf, chicken and gravy, fried pork cutlet, and red beans and rice. Entrees come with vegetables and iced tea.
Many of the lunch items are offered at dinner, along with additional dishes. Pasta creole ($18.99) is back, enhanced with linguine instead of bowtie pasta. Other pastas are shrimp ($16.99), vegetable ($14.99), and chicken Alfredo ($14.99).
Seafood and chicken dishes include fried shrimp ($18.99), tuna ($22.99), chicken marinara ($17.99), beef tournados ($24.99), filet ($31.99 for 8-ounce. $36.99 for 10 ounce), Cajun pork loin ($22.99), and General Tso’s ($16.99).
On weekends, brunch items include shrimp and grits ($13.99), French toast with fruit and bacon ($11.49), sausage biscuit Benedict ($12.99), and a dish worth getting out of bed early, chicken cutlet ($14.99). Fried chicken is served with grits, toast, poached eggs, and bacon and covered with sausage gravy. Trust me, this dish will make any weekend memorable.
The Strawberry Cafe is located at 107 Depot Drive in Madison. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for Sunday brunch. Brunch is also served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Call 601-856-3822 for catering or other information.