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Green Owl Cafe Is A Vegetarian Haven, With Plenty For Meat Eaters To Enjoy

By S. Mathur

Rather surprisingly for this liberal university town, the Green Owl Cafe is the only vegan and vegetarian restaurant here. Owner Jennie Capellaro noticed this gap when she was a law student at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

"I felt Madison's vegetarians and vegans deserved to have a dedicated veggie restaurant," she said. "This idea had been percolating in my mind as I was finishing up my degree at UW Madison Law School. I ended up not practicing law after graduation and, instead, going straight into the restaurant business."

She opened the Green Owl Cafe in 2009, and it has acquired a many loyal vegan and vegetarian customers since then. They even feel overwhelmed sometimes to have a whole menu dedicated to their kind of food. But the tables aren't turned on the meat eaters: there's plenty for them to enjoy as well.

"We also have surprised and pleased many a meat eater," Capellaro said. "By providing flavorful, inventive food many customers tell us they love eating at the Green Owl and don't feel deprived by having a meatless meal. Bringing joy to our customers and working with a great crew of employees over the years has brought me the most joy in this endeavor."

The cafe bestseller is the TLT with avocado. It's a lunchtime favorite for many regulars, including the meat eaters.

"We get locally produced tempeh (similar to tofu but it uses whole soybeans) from Bandung, an Indonesian restaurant on the east side of Madison," Capellaro said. "We marinate the tempeh and bake it to order. We put that on Madison Sourdough's whole wheat sandwich bread. Add avocado, vegan aioli, lettuce and tomato and voilà, you have a tasty sandwich that you will find yourself craving."

There's also Izzy's salad, which is the Lebanese take on Greek salad and is named for Capellaro's grandmother Isabelle. It features kalamata olives, pepperoncini, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta (or grilled lemon tofu for a vegan version) with a lemon-mint dressing and topped with a scoop of tabouli. The vegan desserts from chef Cara, who's been with the cafe since the beginning, include the coconut cream pie with its own cult following.

Unlike many vegan and vegan restaurants, the Green Owl has a full bar with craft beers, organic wine, and cocktails with local and seasonal ingredients. The Green Owl supports local vendors and farmers as much as possible. Capellaro also appreciates being able to talk directly to the farmers who produce the food, such as the maple syrup guy or farmer Mark who brings in kale from his small city based acreage. The kale is quickly used for tasty baked kale crisps.

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