Where Brunch Beckons

Sophia's Cafe and Bakery is a good reason to get up on a weekend morning

If the question is brunch, there’s just one answer: Sophia’s Bakery & Café. Opened in 1995 by Sophia Barabas, the restaurant is only open weekends, and savvy patrons know to get there early. 

“The first thing people say the when they walk in? It smells good,” says Barabas’s daughter Becky Parmentier, who works the cashier. “The second thing? It’s crowded.”

Four tables, scavenged from thrift stores, sit tucked among café chairs and a sideboard stacked with mismatched mugs. Sophia’s is ultra-casual, even by Madison standards, but the kitchen takes brunch very seriously. The chalkboard menu might include croissant French toast swimming in raspberry sauce, Belgian waffles heaped with peaches and whipped cream or ricotta-walnut cake studded with plums.  Savory dishes also draw raves, like black bean tacos served with tomatillo salsa and scrambled eggs, and Sophia’s famous omelets, fluffy, three-egg affairs filled with ingredients like roasted summer squash, Asiago and basil.

“Everything has to be finessed just a little,” says Barabas’s daughter Christa Parmentier, who rises at 4 a.m. to bake treats like poppy seed cinnamon rolls and ginger pound cake. “A little liqueur, a little nutmeg, a little lemon zest. Everything has to be just so.”

That’s how Barabas grew up cooking in her native Budapest, and later in Vienna, where, she says, “people have a keen appreciation for food and pastries.” At fifteen she moved to the U.S. and later spent years cooking professionally, but always dreamed of opening her own place. When a storefront came up for sale on East Johnson Street, she took the plunge. 

Seventeen years later, Barabas still rises at dawn to make everything from scratch. “There’s a very high standard,” Christa says, nodding to her mother. “And she’s it.”

• Sophia’s Bakery & Café, 831 E. Johnson St., 259-1506

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