Dane101 revisits Madison's only meatless restaurant: The Green Owl
Post by William Mitchell on 7/3/2012 10:00am
Restaurants have only three chances to make a good first impression. The first occurs when the customer walks through the door, the second when presented with a menu, the third when the food arrives.
The Green Owl’s atmosphere sets the stage with cool, green walls adjacent to warm orange and yellow murals with shadow birch trees. As counterpoint, one whole wall is covered in stained wood adorned with the owner’s sister-in-law’s attractive food still lifes.
The menu announces the Green Owl is a niche restaurant. It’s vegetarian and vegan-friendly of course, but it’s not a celebration of grains, fruits, vegetables and fungi, but rather an ode to meat-analog cooking.
While perusing the menu we enjoyed some bottles of ice-cold local brews (meat may be “evil," but at least they are not scolds when it comes to imbibing) and munched on a basket of baked kale crisps. At first, the in-your-face vegetalness of the kale put me off, but before long I was munching on it like it was popcorn. Score one for the Owl. We started our meal with an order of the Middle-Eastern Platter, which consisted of hummus, tabouli, muhammara, and baba ganoush.
I must confess a bias here, this is my kind of vegetarian, food that is naturally vegan and not doctored with “clever” meat substitutes. The hummus was passable while the meaty eggplant puree, velvety baba ganoush and the refreshing tabouli with its salad of bright mint and cooling cucumber were more than agreeable. The star, however, was the muhammara, a rich swirl of roasted red pepper and walnuts. The platter comes with disappointingly crunchy pita. Luckily, one of our group shared his order of crisp, delicious sesame crackers ordered due to a case of celiac disease.
Two of our table ordered sandwiches. The BBQ Jackfruit, though described on the menu as a vegan pulled pork, deserves to stand on its own. When cooked, the jackfruit takes on a meaty texture and when paired with the creamy coleslaw, dill pickles and a toothsome ciabatta roll makes for a tasty and formidable sandwich. Regrettably, I was told that while good it was better in the past when they used fresh instead of canned fruit. The Curry Melt, an amalgamation of veganaise, curry powder, raisins, vegetables and vegetable protein topped with vegan “cheese” made me long for its progenitor, the classic tuna melt. Though it was not without its fans.
I sampled a trio of entrees: Vegan Schnitzel, Stuffed Red Pepper, and Vegetarian Jambalaya. The Stuffed Pepper was a feast of crunchy almonds, sweet raisins, earthy lentils, and jewel-like quinoa cloaked in red pepper and bathed in a Morrocan tomato sauce. The Vegetarian Jambalaya was simply disappointing. It’s a rice dish, but the (unfortunately al dente) rice wasn’t even cooked properly. Given all that could go into Jambalaya and still keep it vegan, the marinated baked tempeh was certainly an unimaginatively poor, though predictable, choice. Given all that, I was gob-smacked how much I enjoyed the Vegan Schnitzel, a hunk of golden fried raft floating in an ecru pond of porcini mushroom sauce.
Writing this review was much more difficult than I expected. The Green Owl is not the vegetarian restaurant I would want for Dane County. The food is, at best, mediocre, and better vegetarian and vegan options are available at non-vegan restaurants. That being said, it does give local vegetarians and vegans (as well as celiacs) a rare treat of being able to go into a restaurant knowing that they can order anything off the menu that catches their eye.
Dane101 first visited the Green Owl shortly after its opening in 2009.
1970 Atwood Avenue