Thursday, September 24, 2009

Green Dog Café

Green Dog Cafe
3543 Columbia Parkway
East End

The newest restaurant from Mark & Mary Swortwood (original owners of the Brown Dog Cafe in Blue Ash and Tinks in Clifton) features locally sourced ingredients and plenty of vegetarian, vegan and even gluten-free selections, all prominently marked on the menu to alleviate questions and concerns. The aptly named Green Dog Cafe takes the green theme seriously; the space was created using sustainable materials and renewable resources where possible. The restaurant is located in a newly built shopping plaza near the Delta Avenue intersection.

Green Dog Café

From the stylish mix of Scandinavian fixtures and fittings to the tranquil turquoise walls and splashes of bold-colored paintings, the Green Dog radiates a fashionable, well-heeled vibe, but the lack of soft furnishings makes for a very shrill atmosphere. The seating is a mixture of booths, four-tops and long communal tables, and plenty of windows make the space bright and inviting.

The serene color belies the noisy din when the restaurant is busy

Scandinavian-inspired lighting

Orders are taken at the counter and diners are given a laminated card with a number on it. Grab a booth and stick the card into a wire rack on the table for easy viewing and a t-shirted member of staff will deliver your order. Ours didn't arrive at the same time; my friend's BLT sandwich came out before our appetizer of fries with honey curry mayonnaise and spicy tomato-banana ketchup.

Order at the counter and your meal is delivered to your table

The fries were wonderful. The Idaho potatoes are hand-cut to 3/8” thickness and fried in small batches to crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside perfection. They are possibly the best rendition of vlaamse frites I’ve had in America, and the creatively flavored dipping sauces were amazing.

Stainless steel containers keep the fries warm through the meal

Burgers, wraps and sandwiches are served with one side; choose from a salad, kimchee, brown rice or corn chips. My friend’s kimchee was a delicately pickled mix of shredded vegetables that packed a bit of heat. He found it so tasty that he wished they sold it in take-home pint containers. So far, so good. He enjoyed his BLT but didn’t think it was worth the $12.50 price tag.

The BLT with a side of kimchee

I opted for the “Hey Perro” black bean wrap and side salad, and this is where the meal really nosedived. The salad was a standard mix of organic baby greens with a lovely acidic dressing, but the wrap? Bland, bland, bland. I would not order this item again because the balance of ingredients was way off mark. The filling included very little of the advertised corn salsa and tomato salsa, the avocado and manchego fresca were virtually non-existent (each appeared in exactly one bite), and there was dreadfully little flavor to the beans. The wrap came loaded with unseasoned brown rice however - which costs pennies to the pound - and a hefty $11 asking price. I realize that gratuity is already included in the menu prices, but since you order at a counter, seat yourself and have your meal delivered by a member of the kitchen staff, I think it’s a bit rich to charge a fee for this.

Too much rice, not enough flavor

Possibly I simply chose the wrong item. The restaurant also offers a veggie burger ($11) and a couple of rice bowls ($9.50-$10), and I’ve heard wonderful things about the fresh-made guacamole ($9.50) and lemon hummus ($13) starters, but based on my experience with the wrap, I’m not eager to revisit, which is a shame because their wine list is intriguing. The Swortwood recipes are undoubtedly of high standard and quality, but if the kitchen doesn’t bother to get the balance of ingredients right the meal is a failure.

I had high hopes for Green Dog Café and really thought it would become a regular haunt, but maybe it comes down to the fact that I am not part of their target demographic, even though I am environmentally aware and a committed vegetarian. To me, $17 seems steep for a tasteless wrap and an order of fries, tip or not. Perhaps the ladies-who-lunch won't bat an eyelash, but I doubt the broader appeal, and seriously wonder if the restaurant can attract the locavore crowd who, for the most part, are already going to know how and where to source quality, local ingredients to prepare at home for a fraction of the cost.

Green Dog  on Urbanspoon


Heather said...

This bums me out - I've really been looking forward to going. I have to say - both items you got looked awful!

I'll give it a try - but will make sure to not order those items!

Veggie Option said...

It really bums me out too, Heather, because this restaurant has the potential to be fantastic. But honestly? I can get much better tasting black bean wraps from Moes, Habaneros, Burrito Joes and even Chipotle for a FRACTION of the cost.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Good review.
I thought the atmosphere was terrible. I could not wait to leave with the cold color the of the walls and to get away from the paintings that made me feel like I was being attacked. I took a seat facing away from them so I did not have to look at them- hideous.
I was not fond of the cafeteria set up for fancy restaurant prices.
That said, the fries were delicious, and my wife and I really enjoyed the Salmon wrap that we shared. We ate fast and then got out of there. I imagine it would be a better experience to eat in the outside area but I doubt we will go back.

emily lang said...

i don't think you ordered the wrong thing, i think it's just as you described it across the board.

when i gave in and ate there a couple weeks ago i was equally disappointed. i had one of the rice bowls though i can't remember which. bland, unimpressive.

in my opinion, a restaurant that boasts healthy organic food and viable vegetarian options should be doing it well, fantastic or mind blowing even and they simply aren't. the food is lackluster and the price tag is highway robbery in my opinion. i make better, tastier vegetarian food at home and for the same price i can munch on it for a whole week.

i had such high hopes and the restaurant falls so flat. you can get a better, tastier veggie burrito or rice bowl or salad mix from chipotle for half the price.

i really don't know how long that location will stay open if they don't do a 180 and completely overhaul the menu and think about shaving down their prices.

Anonymous said...

It is sad to hear vegetarians bash one of the few vegetarian friendly restaurants. It is also sad to hear people compare independent restaurants to mega-chain McDonald's owned chains like Chipotle. I have eaten here several times and absolutely love it! Veggie chili and several fresh made bean and rice bowls. Keep it up everybody and there won't be any restaurants left except McDonald's and Chipotle because all your locally owned business bashing will surely aid in mega chain take-over. Maybe we should go to where you work and criticize every little thing you do.

Veggie Option said...

Anon: Thanks for visiting the blog. I stand by my comments - Green Dog ought to be a LOT better than it is for the prices they charge, independent restaurant or not.

For the record, McDonalds fully divested from Chipotle in 2006. Chipotle founder/owner (and chef) Steve Ells is still the co-CEO.

Penelope Art & Design said...

I beg to differ on the disappointment some people are expressing about Green Dog. I must admit I love it! But then again I don't feel like my food needs to be smothered with various spices and salsa to taste good. To be good equals FRESH and Green Dog has that. Yes, it's a bit pricey, but of course it would be. Local, organic costs more. Supply and demand! I think everyone who reads this post should give it a try for themselves. You might be surprised.

Rachel said...

I really like the idea of Green Dog, but I've simply read too many negative reviews of it to want to even try it on my own. Perhaps if they were cheaper, I'd go ahead and judge for myself, but I'm just not willing to shell out $11 for a veggie burger that many agree to be bad and bland.

Anonymous said...

I really loved it! I went there over the weekend. I loved the paintings, the color, and the light fixtures. I am vegan and they had plenty of options from which to choose. What I ordered was great and I saw many things on the menu that I am looking forward to trying. The staff was great, too.