It taunted me: the omnipresent kelly-green food truck stationed at the corner of MLK Blvd every Saturday of the Dane County Farmers Market. Too late for breakfast but too early for lunch, my 9:30 arrival time to peruse the local produce never coincided with enough hunger to sample the Dandelion Food Cart. With my bubbling urge to eat at every vegan-friendly establishment in Madison…or the Midwest…or America…oh, hell, the WORLD, I naturally placed visiting the only 100% vegetarian food cart in Madison on the top of my to do list.
I met Miss Yassmine, whom you might recognize from such eating excursions as lunch at the Sunprint Cafe, on State Street to walk down to Library Mall, otherwise known as Food Cart Nation. Oodles of ethnic stands from South African to Indonesian to Chinese, refreshing fruit smoothie carts, and a mini version of Monty’s Blue Plate Diner open from 10:30-2:30 every weekday to serve hungry UW students, downtown businessmen, and various other Madisonians who enjoy good food.
With a fast-growing line in front, the Dandelion seemed to garner the most attention out of the many food carts: a positive sign! One look at the menu and I fully understood why the bright green truck merited its popularity. Complete with five sandwiches inspired by multiple wordly cuisines (all of which can be served on a whole-wheat pita), two hearty entree-style plates, raw oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, and a chocolate peanut butter cup for dessert, this cart knew what vegans craved.
As I always say: the longer it takes to decide what to order, the better because it means that a whole bunch of menu items appeal to you. And OH, did they appeal. I flitted between the Sweet Potato Wrap (I have a bit of a love affair with sweet potatoes), the Dandelion Salad Sandwich (anything with hummus spread on it must be a winner), and the Texas Style BBQ Tofu. Deciding to forgo the bread for today (I don’t like to have too much bread, i.e. flour, during the week. Once or less, usually), I opted for the BBQ Tofu “served entree style,” while Yassmine opted for the Baked Tofu Sandwich. After exciting ourselves with our very near future lunches, we spied the Side of Vegetables on the menu…and simply had no choice but to split one. Incredibly happy with our cheap and succulent-looking orders, Yassmine and I followed suit of the other food cart patrons and seated ourselves on a nearby stairway in the shade.
Cilantro-topped black eyed peas, smoky rich collard greens, and a saute of sweet potatoes, onions, and poblano peppers surrounded three hearty slabs of tofu slathered in a tangy barbeque sauce to form a Southern medley of vegan happiness in my Texas Style BBQ Tofu entree. I satisfied my sweet potato fix, tasted some of the most delightful collard greens of my life, and fulfilled all my protein and leafy green needs. The tofu offered the only downside to the dish: while the texture skirted the perfect line between chewy and firm, I suspect that the tofu was not fresh, but rather freeze-dried reconstituted tofu that may or may not have been fried. A dash of refined sugar may have also weasled its way into the spicy-sweet sauce, though I sincerely hope (probably in vain), that the Dandelion chef used agave nectar or maple syrup instead. Despite the two soy-based flaws, I wholeheartedly enjoyed my trip down South at the Dandelion.
Meal Checklist: Protein–tofu, black eyed peas, and edamame in vegetable side. Whole Grain–brown basmati rice in vegetable side. Vegetables–sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, and a mix in vegetable side. Leafy Greens–collard and spinach in vegetable side.
Yassmine’s Baked Tofu Sandwich came on a ciabatta roll (no whole-wheat pita substitute for this sandwich), topped with baked tofu (what looked like the same freeze-dried tofu as in my dish), lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and avocado drizzled with a spicy veganaise aioli served with a side of tortilla chips and pico de gallo. A non-vegan, she also added the optional melted cheddar cheese to the sandwich. Though Yassmine’s small mouth paled in comparison to the size of the stuffed ciabatta, once she fit her teeth around the bread and managed to take a bite, her face lit up and exclaimed “You can tell your blog followers that this place is a definite 10!”
Though our entrees left us quite satisfied, Yassmine and I still greatly enjoyed the Side of Vegetables. What could easily constitute an entire meal (especially when adding the optional tofu for a dollar extra), a bed of spinach topped with brown basmati rice, corn, grated carrots, radishes, cucumbers, purple cabbage, pico de gallo, and edamame drizzled with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and sesame oil is much much more than just a side. The vegetable-and-whole-grain rainbow tasted fresh, crunchy, and very wholesome–I may become a regular patron of the Dandelion just for the “side” of vegetables.
Meeting all of my pent-up food cart anticipation, the quality of the Dandelion’s food exceeded that of a few non-wheeled restaurants in Madison and was certainly on par with a good many regular sit-down eating establishments. It is a wonderful destination for a fast, cheap, healthy, and simply mouthwatering lunch.
Until next time, Ali.