The Green Owl Cafe

Madison, Wisconsin


Image for Benjamin Kutschied

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My wife and I took a detour through Madison recently and enjoyed a great dining experience at The Green Owl Cafe.

The atmosphere was unique with owl kitsch scattered about and a couple of different art installations including one with pictures of animals from an animal sanctuary. The dining room is a long hallway that opens up at the back of the restaurant with tables scrunched together rather... intimately. The friendly and casual staff did a great job chatting everyone up and making customers feel comfortable in close quarters.

The food was outstanding. The vegan chipotle remoulade (on the Crabby Cakes appetizer)
alone was worth the trip. I regret not asking whether I could purchase a jar to take home with me. We had two sandwiches for our main course: BBQ Jackfruit and Vegetarian Italian Beef. Jackfruit was a great "meaty" choice for a vegetable-based BBQ sandwich. The Italian Beef was one of the most impressive veganized meat dishes I've ever had. It brought me back fifteen years to eating at Johnny's in Chicago. I'm not sure whether they have it available daily, but the Chai Cake was great as well. Although I was in a Madison beer mood that night, they also have house-made kombucha available.

The Green Owl has a great staff, 100% vegetarian menu, clearly marked vegan options, and some of the best food around.

Image for Dave Rolsky

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I've eaten at The Green Owl for dinner twice and brunch once. Everything I've had has ranged from good to excellent. The standouts for me are the desserts. The Chocolate Lava Cake is absolutely fantastic, and the cinnamon rolls they have at brunch are delicious. I've also tried their vegan cheesecake, which is one of the best I've had.

The schnitzel is good, but the menu describes it as coming with a creamy porcini mushroom sauce. In fact, what you get is a blob of chopped mushrooms held together in a tight ball by some sort of creamyish stuff. It's not really a sauce, though. The "fish fry" special was a similar breaded mock meat thing, but served with delicious tartar sauce.

For brunch, I had the biscuits and gravy, which were excellent, but the accompanying hash browns were not really hot for some reason. They were good, but they should've been warmer.

Overall, I definitely recommend this place. They have a good selection of vegan items, and their vegan desserts are all amazing.

Image for veg*ngirl

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Things that I didn't expect to be great like the kale crisps, the green beans and the cabbage coleslaw were OUTSTANDING. At the same time, things I thought would be great like my fish sandwich, we're just so-so. Nothing wrong with the fish fillet itself, it needed a good tartar sauce and better bun.

The vegan schnitzel lived up the the hype. Yumilicious!

Drink selection is top notch. Try the kombucha. Homemade flavors. When I was there they had lavender-dandelion-red clover kombucha and it was fabulous.

One waitress working hard and three others hardly working. Not sure if we came in during a shift change, but it seemed odd. Service could have been friendlier.

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This is a GREAT restaurant! We ordered the Crabby Cake Po'Boy with the Roasted Baby Red Potatoes, the Vegetarian Jambalaya, and the Lemon Poppy Seed Cheesecake. Everything was absolutely wonderful and full of flavor. The Po'Boy was excellent and the chipotle remoulade added the perfect touch of spiciness. The marinated baked tempeh in the Jambalaya was the best tempeh we have ever eaten. The dinner was topped off with the best vegan cheesecake we have ever eaten. This restaurant is definitely worth a visit!

Image for Ja&Kristina.Sather

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We don't live in Madison, but because of this place we wish we did. The ambiance is so adorable and warm/inviting, and the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. They don't come ask you every 5 mins if everything is OK. The food is outstanding, although the portions are a little small for the price. My husband says he is never full but the desserts kind of make up for it. I love that everything is clearly labeled vegan or not. We've had the crabby cake po boy, the Italian 'beef', the 'pulled pork', the empanada, and the TLT (tempeh lettuce and tomato), as well as their desserts like cheesecake and pineapple upside down cake. They also have great drinks. Everything there is phenomenal - our favorites being the TLT and also their kale crisps (fried kale). We stop every time we go through the city and are sad when we have to leave. So good!

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This is probably my most favorite restaurant ever. I've only been there two times (I do not live near the area), but I visit whenever I am in town!

I've tried their Crabby Cake Po'boy and their Italian Beef, both were outstanding. The atmosphere is great, the service is awesome and their nightly specials are super inventive!

Make sure to stop by whenever you are in the area (it is even worth a day trip out there if you do not live close by, you won't be disappointed!)

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I really really love the green owl. We are regulars there and probably go 3-4 times a month. The staff is always really friendly and the service is timely even when they are very busy. I haven't loved everything I've tried there, but I haven't disliked anything. My least favorite (vegan) item is the vegan schnitzel, but I adore the crabby cake po boy and am always really impressed with the vegan desert selection (I haven't had the same experience as one of the other reviewers, they have almost always had 1-3 vegan options for desert - but we tend to go mon-thurs, or lunch so it might be they are just running out). I've tried many of the specials and have liked them all.

It's also really a great place to take non-vegs because the food is relatively familiar. This may be a down side with some vegs because many of their selections are at least described as "meat-alikes" or substitutes. This is really just a marketing disagreement so please don't let it stop you from trying the dishes. They also have daiya cheese, which so far to me is the only tolerable vegan cheese option.

They just expanded the menu and I've very happy with the changes they made.

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Initially I was very excited to finally have a vegan restaurant in Madison. I have mixed feelings about the Green Owl, which tends to cater more to the vegetarian crowd by offering a lot of cheese options. The food has been so-so but I continue to go back because I want the restaurant to stay open. I will admit that the food has improved recently and more options are now available. The outdoor seating is a nice plus. The staff is always very friendly. Everything is a little over priced, especially the drinks.

The BBQ jackfruit has a nice tangy taste. The bread is sometimes soggy. The pickles don't really do the sandwhich any favors. I have ordered this more than once.

The vegetarian jumbalaya is very bland and disappointing and I would not reccommend ordering this. It was overcooked and too gummy. We had a hard time finishing it.

I have yet to be impressed by any of the soups but have only tried the curry lentil (very bland) and one chili. I love the salad bar and the vegan dressing options but wish it was available for dinner and not just lunch.

The vegan desserts are hit or miss. The cheesecakes are good. Often times, the selection is limited if you go later in the evening. There tend to be a lot more non vegan options available.

Most recently we tried the TLT with avacado and the curry melt with daiya cheese and both were very good. The portion sizes were perfect, the sides of kale chips were yummy. I would definately recommend these sandwhiches and was very happy to see some new things on the menu!

Image for conde.kedar

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Praise be, Madison finally has a vegetarian restaurant! Best of all, The Green Owl fits the bill as a go-to spot whenever you happen to be in town---it's casual, affordable and has a good-sized menu so you can try something new each time you stop by. About 80% of the menu is vegan and all vegan items are labeled. Green Owl also has rotating vegan dessert specials daily. If you're in Madison and you're vegan or vegetarian or just like good food, this place should be at the top of your list.

The space itself is lovely: bright; colorful; retro-mod with a bistro-bar ambience. The bar up front is a bit cramped and too close to the front door (a chilly spot in winter) but it'll be great in the summer. Green Owl has a good selection of unusual wines and beers.

I do wish that Green Owl was a bit more casual and offered original coffee & tea drinks, so that the space could double-up as a coffee shop as well. I think it would draw people in and (hopefully) steal away customers from less veg-friendly places in that area. It would also save me the hassle of driving a mile down the road to the Williamson Street Co-op to pick up a fresh chai for my frequent trips to/fro Minneapolis to/fro Chicago.

I first time I went I had a BBQ jackfruit sandwich with roasted potatoes ($8). The sandwich tasted good on a whole, but was not without flaws. For one thing, there wasn't enough jackfruit---it seemed like only a few small pieces. Secondly, I don't know if mixing coleslaw on the sandwich worked with the smoky-sweet flavor of the barbecue sauce. Lastly, the artisan bread was not toasted enough, and was too thick; I would have preferred a thinner, toasted whole wheat option. The roasted potatoes were a tasty side, though.

I also had a slice of coconut creme pie ($6) for dessert. This was spectacular. It was oh-so-subtly sweet, with wonderfully airy "creme" and nice crispy-crumbly notes from shaved coconut and a great crust.

The second time I went to Green Owl I had the "vegetarian Italian beef" (which is vegan; $9). This sandwich was excellent and tasted just like Italian beef sandwiches, though with seitan. The bread got nicely soggy and wet and brought back many memories. I think the seitan could have been marinated more in the sauce, but it was a great-tasting meal and much better than the BBQ jackfruit sandwich. I got it with a side of kale crisps, which were also awesome, and not usually seen on menus. The portion size could have been slightly larger given the price, but this was definitely a high-grade meal and well-executed.

For dessert I had a slice of New York cheesecake ($6) which came topped with strawberries, whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and one fresh mint leaf. This cheesecake was wonderful and one of the best I've ever had. It was rich, but not too sweet, and the interplay of the caramel, strawberries, mint and whipped cream was divine.

On my third visit, I had the vegan schnitzel ($13) which comes with either a soup or salad. The soup was an amazing winter vegetable medley that was quite spicy (probably too much so for most people, but just perfect for me). The schnitzel itself was also spectacular---I've never had real schnitzel, but this was a breaded, meaty marvel covered in a savory mushroom stroganoff-style sauce. I enjoyed the garlic green beans and roasted red potatoes that also came with the dish. For dessert I got a chocolate mousse tart ($6) which came with raspberry sauce and soy whipped cream; this was delicious and the chocolate had a slightly minty flavor. Green Owl consistently does excellent desserts.

For the fourth visit I had their crabby cakes sandwich ($9) which was tasty on fluffy white bread. It seemed a bit small for the price tag, but it was still good. On a whole, I would recommend the Italian beef or the schnitzel over anything else (I have yet to try their jambalaya, however). I also had a slice of key lime cheesecake ($6) which was good, and had a nicely browned/baked top layer, though it wasn't as good as the New York cheesecake I'd had a couple months back.

The service is always friendly and helpful. On at least two separate occasions my server also got me samples of the other available vegan dessert of the day, which was a great way to help me decide which dessert to choose.

Every town should have an all-purpose veg. spot like this one. I'm glad Green Owl is around, though I'm afraid it'll prevent me from ever trying other places in Madison!

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I just had my first experience there, and it was fabulous! I had the italian "beef" sandwich (made from seitan), and my son had the daily special and a slice of coconut cream pie. Both were outstanding, and I can't wait to go back! I would also add that the Green Owl is definitely vegan-friendly, and I'm not sure why it's listed as just vegetarian. I am vegetarian but my son and his friends are vegan, and they love it there.

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