Green Owl Anniversary Dinner

Today’s post is the last in a rather long series of restaurant review posts. I swear, S and I aren’t restaurant-hopping spendthrifts, throwing fistfuls of money at every dining establishment with a vegan option! We happened to be traveling for work at the same time in February, and then it was our two-year anniversary and I had a Groupon for The Green Owl, so we just had to get dinner there! But I promise – I’ll get back to basics soon and cool it with the restaurant posts*.

I’ve mentioned The Green Owl more than a few times, but I think I’ve only blogged about it once. The Green Owl is Madison’s only vegetarian restaurant, and a high percentage of their menu items are either already vegan or can be made vegan with ease. I love supporting the place, but I do think that some of their dishes are overpriced considering the portion size and the quality. There are standouts, however, that are totally worth their cost: the Crabby Cake Po’Boy and BBQ Jackfruit sandwiches are top-notch in my book, while S prefers the Italian Beef sandwich. And you’d be a real idiot if you passed on their kale crisps, which are always crunchy, flavorful, and highly addictive. Where The Green Owl really stands out is its dessert menu… but I’ll get to that soon!

Our anniversary fell on a Tuesday, which is (apparently) taco night. I couldn’t resist ordering the tacos, which featured a soy-based chorizo, lettuce, and avocado in corn tortillas. They came with a side of beans and rice and small bowls of vegan sour cream and their house pineapple pico de gallo.

Plate filled with three tacos, rice and beans, and two small metal bowls of vegan sour cream and pico de gallo.

Taco Tuesday!

To be honest, the pineapple pico was probably the best part of this dish. The tacos weren’t anything too special; I could easily make them at home with little fuss. And the “beans and rice” was disappointing – it was literally a pile of barely seasoned black beans alongside a scoop of brown rice. Again, totally fine for something I’d make at home when I wanted a simple dinner, but not what I particularly want to receive as a paying customer at a restaurant! At least I had a pomegranate cocktail to keep me in good spirits. ;)

S ordered the TLT with avocado, served on locally made bread.

Sandwich cut diagonally, alongside a helping of roasted baby red potatoes.

TLT!

I’ve had this before, and it’s perfectly serviceable but nothing mind-blowing. S chose roasted red potatoes as a side – a wise choice, second in quality only to the kale chips! S also ordered a Manhattan. You can see it in the corner, inexplicably served in a small tumbler. When he ordered the drink, our waitress said, “Hmm, I think she knows how to make that!” Not exactly confidence-inspiring, and a Manhattan is not exactly an exotic drink!

Although our meals didn’t boast the most inspiring flavors or quality, our desserts made the entire dinner worthwhile. I ordered a margarita cheesecake that was truly phenomenal.

Small sliver of vegan cheesecake with a thin, translucent topping served alongside a small dollop of vegan whipped cream.

I’m drooling right now.

Bursting with fresh lime flavor, this luscious, creamy cheesecake hit all the right notes. I absolutely loved that it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. The head pastry chef at The Green Owl constantly produces some of the most creative and consistently drool-worthy vegan cheesecake creations I’ve ever had, and this one was one of my all-time favorites. She doesn’t just do cheesecakes, though – all her desserts are equally delicious. S took the cake route and ordered some sort of mocha cake.

Dark-colored three-layer cake with chocolaty frosting. Served with a dollop of vegan whipped cream and two chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Served with chocolate-covered espresso beans!

Although I preferred my cheesecake, this was definitely a standout dessert too. Cakes at The Green Owl are always perfectly moist, with just the right frosting-to-cake ratio.

While not every dish at The Green Owl is a winner, those that are winners win big. No omnivore could try a dessert at The Green Owl and think that vegan baked goods are inferior to their traditional counterparts, and the favorites I listed earlier are consistently high-quality dishes. Even though I have some qualms with The Green Owl’s prices, I’ll still be back for more! Here’s hoping the margarita cheesecake is on the menu next time…!

Do you have easy access to any delicious vegan desserts?

*Sorta. I’ll be in Rhode Island next weekend, and on Sunday my friend is holding a birthday brunch at a restaurant with multiple vegan breakfast options, soooo………

A Very Laid-Back Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving could not have been more different than last year’s (short of not celebrating at all, I suppose). Last year, S and I didn’t live together, but we invited our immediate families to join us in Madison. They flew in from all over the country and helped me prepare dinner. My first-ever hosted holiday was a grand success, and I thoroughly enjoyed crafting the menu and preparing the meal.  It was so gratifying to see my loved ones sit down to a filling, healthy, animal-friendly meal on a day that typically centers around a dead bird.

This year, our families stayed in their respective homes, so it was just S and I. Sure, we could’ve made a feast for two or invited friends to join, but we didn’t. Instead, we had another Thanksgiving first – dining in a restaurant. The Green Owl hosted their first-ever vegan Thanksgiving, and I just couldn’t resist going. The meal was only $30, and it included three courses, dessert, and passionfruit iced tea. Plus, a portion of their profits benefited a local animal-rights group. Sold!

Dinner began at 1:00. S and I arrived a few minutes early and loitered outside with a quickly growing crowd waiting for the doors to open. We were surprised that many of the other guests were older, ranging from the high end of middle age to bona-fide elderly. How exciting to see older folks, who you’d probably expect to be more traditional, taking part in a vegan feast! The crowd didn’t have to wait too long until the doors opened and a cheerful server wished us a “Happy Thanksgiving!” and welcomed us inside.

S and I were seated at our own table, and we eagerly perused the menu (which we’d already seen online) and ordered drinks. S got a brandy-spiked hot apple cider and I ordered a tart, berry-infused vodka cocktail.

Top-down view of a small white laminated piece of paper with the Thanksgiving menu on it.

Looks promising!

It took a little longer than expected for our first course to arrive, no doubt because there were only a few actual Green Owl waitresses on hand. Instead, three volunteers helped bus tables and serve food, all for the promise of a free meal after the paying patrons were served. The volunteers were, um, older, and were a little slow on their feet. The seasoned servers were admirably patient, though, even when their helpers got in the way or swung open the kitchen door without a warning. (S and I were seated right in front of said door, so we got to witness a bit of the behind-the-scenes madness.) We didn’t mind waiting, though – it only made us hungrier and readier to devour our meal! Soon, the first course arrived. They’d opted to serve the salad first, not the soup, but we didn’t mind.

Bed of baby spinach leaves with a quinoa salad studded with dried cranberries.

Fresh.

Truth be told, I was a little worried about this dish. I’m no fan of balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of any variety, really), and salads I’ve gotten here in the past often have a rather heavy-handed application of vinaigrette. I needn’t have worried – everything was just right with this dish. The spinach was lightly dressed, and the pomegranate portion of the vinaigrette masked any unpleasant vinegar aromas. I really loved the cranberry-quinoa salad, too. Even S, who is no fan of quinoa, enjoyed it. The lightly caramelized pepitas were a perfect touch on top.

Next up was the soup course. There was a bit of a delay between salad and soup, but nobody seemed to mind.

Small white bowl of a translucent orange soup topped with chives.

Cheeky shiitakes, peeking up!

This was one of the best butternut squash bisques I’ve had in a while, probably because it was a bit non-traditional. I’m not a huge bisque enthusiast (see: texture issues), so I really appreciated the diced chives and lovely slices of shiitake in this one. And the truffle oil added a wonderful nuanced flavor. I only wished the portion had been a bit larger! It’s probably for the best that it wasn’t, though, or else I wouldn’t have had room for the main course.

Round white plate filled with green beans, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, tofu turkey, and cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving!

Frisbee-shaped plate aside, ain’t this just a beautiful sight to see? It was the quintessential traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The mashed potatoes, tofu turkey, and cranberry-pear (!) sauce were my favorite elements – the potatoes were wonderfully fluffy (and totally lump free!) the tofu turkey was surprisingly un-tofu-like, and the sauce was a perfect mix of whole berries, pear pieces, and more liquidy portions for smearing on potatoes. ;) The the sweet potatoes with candied pecans were also a stand-out element, and the green beans almondine were a refreshingly simple side. I didn’t really notice much about the stuffing, and the Brussels sprouts were a bit of a disappointment – I couldn’t discern maple or mustard, and they were a little mushy for my taste (S remarked that my sprouts are better – win!). All in all, it was a wonderfully satisfying meal, and I made sure to save about 1/3 of my plate for leftovers… and so that I’d be able to eat my dessert.

Small sliver of a light orange cheesecake on a white plate, sprinkled with cinnamon.

Time fo’ sweets!

The Green Owl is well-known for its creative, decadent, vegan (and often raw) desserts, and this pumpkin cheesecake did not disappoint. It was spicy, sweet, and the perfect end to our meal. The portion size was a bit small, but I’m not sure I could’ve eaten much more!

S and I rolled out of the Green Owl nearly two hours after our arrival, stuffed to the gills with all the flavors of Thanksgiving. When we got home, there were no dishes, pots, or pans waiting to be cleaned up, and we spent the rest of our day off relaxing – a perfect way to celebrate a low-key holiday. :)

How did you celebrate Thanksgiving (if at all)? Have you ever gone out to eat on a holiday?

Quick Hit: Sweet Treats at the Green Owl

Yikes, y’all. I’m sorry for the silence – I started off strong this month, but then packing and planning and a month’s worth of deadlines at work got in the way. I’ve got a couple big posts up my sleeves, but in the meantime, allow me to rave about some delicious treats from the Green Owl.

I don’t talk about the Green Owl often enough – it’s Madison’s only vegetarian restaurant, and it’s extremely vegan friendly. It’s my go-to eatery when veg-curious friends and family visit, both for its tasty entrees and its consistently delicious desserts. The Green Owl always has droolworthy vegan sweets available, and although they’re a little pricy, they’re rich, decadent, and well worth the occasional indulgence.

This past Friday S and I enjoyed post-dinner snacks (kale crisps for me, a cup of chili for S) and dessert after a busy week. My mango cheesecake was perfect – creamy but not too sweet and topped with a mango puree that made my mango-lovin’ self go nuts. Even the crust was special, a ginger-coconut blend that hit all the right tropical notes.

A thin sliver, but oh-so-filling!

S enjoyed the coconut cream pie, a Green Owl staple that doesn’t skimp on the coconut and is, quite frankly, almost too rich for me. But I definitely swiped a few bites from his piece. ;)

Coconutty!

Do you have a go-to veg-friendly eatery, or is your town rife with vegan options?