3543 Columbia Parkway
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.