Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Review: Barking Mad Café in Gaithersburg, Maryland

I’m not usually a burger person. Sure, I’ll order them every so often at veg restaurants if the mood hits, and there’s definitely an uptick in my patty consumption during the summer months, but in general I could take or leave them. When I do take them, I typically opt for a burger that’s more veggie than meaty.

At least that was the case until I tried my new favorite restaurant meal: the Beyond Burger, served with tempeh bacon, sautéed mushrooms, BBQ sauce, and all the veggie fixins on a big ol’ wheat brioche bun.

Beyond Burger at Barking Mad CaféIt might look like your average veggie burger, but oh. my. goodness. It is phenomenal, and I’ve eaten it an embarrassing number of times over the past few months. It’s juicy, sweet-and-savory, and full of so many delicious textures… and it’s served alongside my favorite style of french fries: skin-on, nearly shoestring, with just enough salt.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the restaurant that serves this burger par excellence happens to be located just 10 minutes from our house, and just a couple minutes down the street from my office. The place is called Barking Mad Café, and it boasts an impressive range of vegan options on the lunch and dinner menus. Aside from my beloved burger, plant eaters can also enjoy a soba noodle bowl, a pizza (with mozz, caramelized onions, figs, tempeh bacon, and arugula), a farro salad, a kale salad, or a quinoa salad. I’ll be honest: I’ve only ever ordered the burger. But Steven had the pizza and was impressed, and another friend loves the soba noodle bowl. Plus, Barking Mad has a vegan affogato on the dessert menu, and you can veganize the fried cauliflower appetizer with spicy avocado sauce. (We did try the latter once, and I wasn’t impressed — too oily and not enough flavor.)

Fried Cauliflower at Barking Mad CaféBarking Mad does both sit-down meals and take-out, which is a boon for those of us who live close and prefer to eat while wearing jammies. I’ve only done a sit-down meal once, on my birthday, and found the ambiance and service a bit mystifying. There’s a back bar section, which seemed quite busy, and then a surprisingly massive table section with chrome and hot pink accents and a big window opening onto the kitchen, with the massive brick oven taking center stage. Although the bar was hopping the night we went, the rest of the place was not full by any means, yet the service was surprisingly slow. It took me an age to get my old fashioned (meh), and our food was similarly delayed.

On the plus side, in warm weather you can sit outdoors on a lovely — and large — patio. Barking Mad is situated in a fairly new mixed-use complex, with apartments facing a small retail development. There’s a splash pad, community lawn, and “performance park” in the central shared area, though I’ve personally never seen any “performances” other than dogs straining to have a pee on the artificial turf!

All in all, while the service may be disappointing, the vegan food at Barking Mad is anything but. And the restaurant itself is a great addition to the dismal vegan scene in Gaithersburg. During the warm months, their cold-brew nitro coffee is my occasional morning splurge on the way into work: It’s gorgeously smooth and a perfect, hyper-caffeinated start to the day. Now if only they’d add some vegan options to the brunch menu!

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