The first new business to greet guests as part of the ongoing Washington Market project that’s redeveloping the historic Milwaukee Road Depot on the Near West side of downtown Madison, Wisc., is the aptly named coffee shop and café Porter.
“I like the fact that it’s a loose reference to a train station without being in your face like ‘choo choo coffee shop’ or some sh*t like that,” Gil Altschul, the Madison restaurateur behind the development project told Daily Coffee News.
Porter represents the first coffee-focused venture for Altschul — of Williamson Street’s Grandpa’s Pizzeria and Gib’s Bar — while he’s also the primary partner behind the forthcoming taco restaurant next door to Porter. Inside the 113-year-old former train depot building, both storefronts will eventually look out to a public market where vendor stalls will be built into the train platform. Several of the existing and historic passenger cars already on the site at 640 W. Washington Ave. will be renovated as market and event spaces. Altschul said he hopes to see the restaurant and market open by next fall.
“Big picture, we’re building a restaurant and a farmer’s market, and this place is really a coffee shop and sandwich shop that kind of fills in all the odds and ends that you can’t get from the other two places,” said Altschul, adding that an early departure from the previous tenant at the Porter space precipitated an earlier-than-anticipated buildout. “Since the beginning of the project the response has been overwhelmingly positive in this community. Madison, as a whole, is so over-saturated with restaurants, except for this area.”
Heading into the Porter project as only a casual coffee drinker, Altschul enlisted the help of longtime barista competitor Trevor Gruehn of the consultancy Variable Coffee to launch the coffee program, while barista Jes Perkins was later brought on to manage the coffee side.
The team is now serving coffee exclusively from the venerable North Carolina roastery Counter Culture Coffee, which Altschul praised for offering a lineup of “crowd-pleasing” blends in addition to more adventurous single-origins. “We’re going to be pulling in so many walks of life down here — students, business people, who knows,” said Altschul. “We did want to be able to appeal to a wide palate.”
With access to CCC’s Chicago regional training center, Porter is now pulling shots from a new 2-group La Marzocco Linea, while awaiting the arrival of a brand new Mahlkonig EK43 grinder. There are currently two batch brews on offer at any given time, as well as Hario V60 pourovers for rotating single-origins.
Coffee at Porter shares equal platform space with the food program. In an ample open kitchen in full view of patrons, Altschul and the Porter team can be seen experimenting with soup stocks and sandwich combinations that constitute the evolving made-to-order breakfast and lunch menu, which also includes simpler coffee-complementary fare such as avocado toast and fresh baked goods.
“I think big picture when the restaurant’s open and the market’s open, we’ll totally kill,” Altschul said of Porter’s development in these early stages. “But for now we’re definitely going to give it through the holidays to see where we are and where we are not.”
Porter is located at 640 West Washington Ave., in Madison, Wisc.