Green Owl Cafe does right by vegetarians, vegans, and their omnivore friends
Post by Emily Mills on 12/14/2009 10:42am
For all its co-ops, CSAs, and the highest per capita ratio of restaurants in the nation, Madison has been strangely lacking in a vegetarian/vegan-focused eatery for many years. All that changed this month with the grand opening of the Green Owl Cafe, a meatless restaurant that took up residence in the former Anchor Inn building on Schenk’s Corners.
Proprietor Jennie Capellaro opened the Green Owl after spending a great deal of time honing her skills making the well-loved soups sold at places like Mother Fools and Alchemy. And that experience pays off here, with a solid menu that offers a very decent variety of both vegetarian and vegan entrees, appetizers, salads, soups, and desserts.
The opening of the diner was of special interest to me, as I’ve been a vegetarian for over a decade (only recently making a few exceptions for locally raised and prepared meat). The chance to walk into a restaurant and have more than two non-grilled cheese, non-portabello based options to choose from on the menu was incredibly appealing. So I set out this past weekend to eat lunch there, taking along my fella, himself a lifelong omnivore, to see if this new addition to the Madison culinary scene lived up to the hype. I’m extremely happy to report that it did.
First of all, they’ve done a fabulous job of remodeling the old Anchor Inn space. That rough, biker bar charm has been replaced by warm, cozy woodwork, a not unpleasant green paint scheme, ample table space, and a cool little juice and cocktail bar up by the front. One of my old bands played a couple of shows at the Anchor, so it was a kick to see it so transformed.
Secondly and more importantly, the food is excellent. I ordered the Crabby Cake Po’Boy, a sandwich that features vegan crabcakes on a roll with lettuce, tomato, and a chipotle rémoulade. The roll was perfect, with a substantial but not cloying body and a lovely, flaky crust. The crabcakes tasted like a delicious mix between actual crabcakes and falafel, and combined with the remoulade they packed a decent little kick that helped clear out my congested sinuses without being too much. I ordered the kale crisps on the side on a whim, and found them to be a somewhat bizarre but decent treat. They come in a fairly low key state that I decided warranted the addition of salt, but I imagine some folks would like them just fine as-is. My only complaint was that their mouth feel was a little off-putting, somewhat resembling eating particularly structured dust.
My fella ordered the BBQ Jackfruit sandwich with a side of roasted potatoes and we both marveled at the ability of an honest-to-goodness fruit to replicate the taste and feel of pulled pork. He noted that it wasn’t quite as substantial as pork, but was impressed by the overall flavor. I couldn’t resist so stole a couple of bites for myself and thoroughly enjoyed the zesty, earthy barbeque sauce combined with the vegan slaw, which had just the right amount of vinegary, pickled taste. The potatoes were also a pleasant surprise, perfectly cooked and with the right, restrained level of subtle herbs to add extra flavor. It was a nice change from so many other area restaurants that insist on drowning their potatoes in spices and rubs.
We also tried the chef’s special spread appetizer with slices of bread, the spread being a tasty, hearty mix of tahini and miso that actually slightly resembled a light peanut butter but with hints of lemon and lentil that made it light enough not to fill you up before the main course.
I was impressed enough to make up my mind to come back to the Green Owl often so as to try all of the other menu items on offer (you can view them here). Plus, I want to do my part to see that this creative, well-executed endeavor survives for a long time to come. It makes for an excellent addition to the neighborhood, one that can be enjoyed by vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.
The Green Owl Diner is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays & Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (closed on Mondays). It's located at 1970 Atwood Ave. in Madison.
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at