Since we’ve got family in the driftless area we’ve been meaning to check out Optimo Café since it opened. Unfortunately our schedules have failed to match up the last few visits since Optimo is only open Thursday-Sunday (brunch). This past weekend the stars aligned and I think it’s safe to say we’ll make sure our visits are coordinated with their hours in the future.
In my experience, focusing on local producers is a necessity for restaurants in smaller towns instead of the marketing ploy some places in larger cities employ. Optimo has a brief efficient menu and their specials make the most of what they have available. We started with a baked goat cheese and feta appetizer. I’m not a feta fan so thankfully the goat cheese carried the flavors in the hot bubbly cheese. The accompanying crostini reminded me how good crostini can be and made me forget how often this simple accompaniment can be screwed up. It was buttery and had some give while retaining its overall crisp. Two of us opted for special entrees. My braised pork chop had a great flavor but was slightly overcooked. My partner had the bacon wrapped tenderloin which was cooked perfectly and wisely let the meat speak for itself. Both dishes were accompanied by some knockout sides. First up was a root mash which we could have made a meal out of. We were able to discern cauliflower and potatoes but could not pick out the other veggies. The second side was collard greens with bacon. The strong flavor the greens played nicely with a bit of sweetness from the bacon (perhaps maple?). Our other dining partners had the grilled cheese which like the crostini was full of buttery goodness but not to the determent of the other ingredients. The side of blue corn chips were not house made but were fresh and tasty. Two side salads with the entrees featured peapods, fresh lettuce, ramps and a homeade yogurt ranch that was very tasty. All the desserts were all tempting but keeping with the fresh and local idea we skipped cheesecake and mousse for a strawberry rhubarb crisp. Not only did the crisp travel well as we took it to go but so did the honey yogurt sauce that topped it.
Located in the Public Market building in Viroqua, the space is quite massive. Our reservation at 6pm turned out to be unnecessary as there was only one other table filled at our arrival. Still it should be noted that the front of house staff managed the space well. I can’t imagine that even when packed I would have any trouble hearing those at my table. There was some confusion whether they had a booster seat for our toddler but after a few minutes, one appeared. It struck me a bit odd they weren’t prepared as they promote themselves as a kid-friendly environment.
Service was strong overall but our server did seem a bit nervous. Once seated he quickly took our drink order and also quickly ran through the specials. He recovered nicely from his one misstep, forgetting to ask my partner how she wanted her meat cooked, by realizing it on his own and was on point for the rest of the night. I also appreciated that other staff checked in on us including one who offered to rush the toddler’s meal so that we could get him started before ours came. Parents know this can be a hit or miss offer. I’ve had some experiences were the child’s food came so early he was almost done, and subsequently bored, by the time ours has come. Thankfully the timing here was spot on and we were thankful that the wait staff made the offer.
The beer and wine list was impressive in local scope and moderate prices. Needless to say Scott Walker would not find any of his donors on the beer list. The two tap beers had been replaced from the menu and while I was initially disappointed by the absence of the Hinterland Pale Ale, I quickly found solace in the Potosi Steamboat Shandy I ordered. Also on tap was a Sand Creek brew which was quite tasty.
Optimo Cafe, 215 South Main Street, Viroqua, WI, (608) 637-2223