Jennie Capellaro started cooking "just out of necessity." Soon, she'll spin that necessity into a brave venture: The Green Owl, Madison's first vegetarian restaurant since Peacemeal closed about five years ago.
It's been hard for vegetarians in Madison -- well known as a place that loves its farmers' markets, food coop and CSAs, yet has been unable to sustain a dedicated vegetarian restaurant.
You wouldn't know it from the delicious vegan soups she cooks daily for Mother Fools Coffeehouse, but Capellaro is a self-taught vegetarian cook. "My family is obsessed with food," Capellaro admits. "We'll be thinking about what we're going to have for the next meal while we're at the table eating the current meal."
Originally from New Glarus, Capellaro came to Madison to attend UW-Madison. Opening a restaurant hasn't been a longtime goal. Rather, the absence of vegetarian restaurants in Madison kept her thinking. Ultimately, she came to the conclusion that "this is what I do, and I can do this. I love feeding people," although Capellaro also says she "probably wouldn't be doing this if there were other vegetarian restaurants open in Madison."
The Green Owl will be a place "where vegetarians can open the menu and order anything on it," unlike the current state of Madison dining where a lot of places have a handful of vegetarian entrees but the options are still circumscribed. Vegans will also have plenty of options.
Capellaro remembers dining at Willy Street's long-lost and well beloved vegetarian restaurant, Savory Thymes, and she has been in touch with the owners of S.T. who've promised to share some favorite recipes. "My sense is that Savory Thymes was very popular but closed for more personal reasons."
The Green Owl will move into the place formerly occupied by The Anchor Inn, 1970 Atwood Ave. "It'll look snazzy," says Capellaro, and incorporate green materials when possible, along with bright colors and "an organic feel."
And Capellaro is busy tweaking the menu, calling it "home-style vegetarian food, but I am counting on the food appealing to everyone."
Plans are for the Green Owl to be open for lunch and dinner at least five days a week, and possibly for Sunday brunch, but Capellaro is hesitant to name a firm date yet for the opening. "Say, 'sometime in November,'" she suggests. "I'm learning that there are a lot of moving parts to this thing."
Eager vegetarians and foodies alike can stay up-to-date on the restaurant's Facebook page.