For our final day in Madison, we started with brunch at the Green Owl, the city’s lone vegetarian restaurant. We’d heard the evening before at the Vegan Fest after-party that Green Owl has a separate brunch menu that includes such things as French toast bread pudding and biscuits and gravy. We were intrigued. Truth be told, this wouldn’t be our first jaunt to Green Owl. This was to be our third visit… in one long weekend. In our defense, the menu is quite varied, the outdoor seating is lovely, and there are loads of vegan options. Plus, their owl design elements are downright adorable.
Here’s a rundown on some of the things we had over our days there. Let’s start with dessert first…
For dessert, all of the options were vegan. We shared the banana cream pie and chocolate lava cake. The banana and chocolate complemented each other beautifully, and each was lovely on its own as well. The banana was creamy and light, while the chocolate was dense, rich, and melty. It was just the way that you want a molten chocolate cake to be.
One of the nights they had a vegetarian and vegan fish fry as the special. I asked the server what was used to make the patties, and she said they were made in-house of tofu. What really made the patties stand out was the tartar sauce that came with it. It had a fresh pop of dill flavor that elevated the dish to something special. It came with a salad, roasted potatoes, and coleslaw.
Once upon a time I was totally in love with huevos rancheros on top of crisp corn tortillas that gave a delightful crunchy element to this soft and savory dish. That’s what I had in mind for these Vegan Nuevos Rancheros, but the tortillas that came with the meal seemed to be flour (although it said corn on the menu). This dish was more akin to an open-faced breakfast burrito. That said, it was good and spicy, which can be a rarity on brunch menus. It was topped with black beans, roasted jalapenos, vegan chorizo, Daiya cheddar cheese, non-dairy sour cream, scallions, and avocado.
My husband had the tofu scramble. He often jokes that he needs to carry tiny bottles of spices with him when he orders scrambles at restaurants, but luckily there was no need for surreptitious seasoning this time. It was plenty spicy with sautéed red pepper, onions, mushrooms, and served with a side of rosemary-garlic red potatoes.
After brunch we stopped by the Willy Street Co-op to buy snacks for the road. I’d heard a lot about this co-op, which has been around since the seventies, has two locations and is a local favorite. They had a wide selection of produce, frozen goods, and specialty products.
We then set off for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. It is a varied area with savanna, prairies, wetlands, and open water. We spent a long time exploring their well-manicured horticultural gardens, where we saw some wild turkeys frolicking in the June sun.
My favorite section had a long bridge leading to a little wooden seating area. Instead of hovering over a pond or lake, it was a sea of cotton candy-like plants. They looked like a larger version of cattails that had exploded into plumes. It was like Dr. Seuss meets a Japanese garden.
After walking for a couple of hours, we were in the mood for a nibble and tea, and Colleen tracked down Dobra Tea in the downtown area. The ambience was quiet and calming. There was an elevated area with small pillows for sitting at low tables. When you’re ready for service, you ring a little bell that’s left at the table. It keeps the mood very serene.
In addition to a large assortment of tea, they had selection of small bites. We shared a plate of hummus with vegetables, olives, and each had a salad. If I were to rate the hummus, it would easily be in my top five favorites. I’ve never taken the time to make Za’atar to season the top of my hummus, but it made it absolutely outstanding. Those spices were the first pop on the tongue, bringing everything to life. There are also locations of Dobra in Maine, North Carolina, and Vermont.
After a lively weekend in Madison, we said goodbye to this quirky and quaint college town. I’m sure we’ll be back!