2089 Atwood Ave. Madison, WI 53704
QISA (4, 3.5, 4, 3.5), $6-10, Vegetarian-Friendly
The casual vegan traveler to the college town of Madison, Wisconsin, might be forgiven for overlooking Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. After all, on its surface, Monty’s is pure Americana, complete with a wall of second-tier and once long ago first-tier celebrity photos (sorry Arlo). At first glance, the menu is nothing more than carnivore-centric standard dishes such as burgers, corned beef hash, Reuben sandwiches, BLTs, chorizo breakfast burritos, and pork chilaquiles. However, hidden just below the surface is an impressive vegetarian/vegan menu with a variety of redefined diner-style dishes, such as vegetarian chili, vegetarian hash, walnut burgers, huevos rancheros, veggie and goat cheese crepes, tempeh bacon “BLT”, vegan pancakes, falafel wraps, and tofu scramblers. Point of fact, Monty’s meatless menu is larger than that of many strictly vegan restaurants I have visited.
I wavered between the Breakfast Sweet Potato Hash and the Heathen Vegan Shoplifter's Delight; it was a hard-fought battle. In the end, I went with the Delight, mostly because it sounded more interesting overall, but partly because it came with thick cut steak fries. In the end, I did not regret my decision.
The Shoplifter’s Delight was a sandwich of marinated Portobello strips, fried Bandung tempeh (a product of the local Bandung Indonesian Restaurant), caramelized red onions, fresh avocado, and a lemon-tahini dressing, all served on a baguette. The tempeh was marinated just enough to hide its sourness, giving it a mild, pleasant flavor that complemented the other sandwich ingredients. In fact, most of the flavor came from the lemon-tahini dressing, with an accompanying sweetness from the onions, and a satisfying bit of umami balance from the mushrooms and avocado.
I substituted the waffle fries for the standard fries. They were thick cut, meaty, and slightly spiced. I regretted nothing, even if I had to make several promises to myself to skip dinner and jog the length of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport a couple of times on my evening layover.
I ordered a cup of coffee. It was diner standard coffee, but I have discovered that most diners offer a thoroughly decent cup of coffee that beats out McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and many of the other chains that peddle their over-hyped swill as high-brow brew. The coffee was medium roast, low acidity coffee that spoke of the best parts of the Midwest.
Speaking of which, for just a little bit more, you can order the coffee and a donut, instead of just the coffee. Monty’s donuts are made fresh in-house, so naturally, I had to try one. In the interest of science and all. Oh my. This was not your standard Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Tim Horton’s greasy pastry. This was doughy and perfectly sweet, balancing at the border of donut, cake, and bread. I got mine with sprinkles because, yeah. I regretted nothing, even if I had to make several promises to visit Planet Fitness every night and morning the next week.
The service at the restaurant is just what you would expect from a Midwest-nice establishment. The very cute waitress was friendly and attentive but not in a flirtatious or ego-stroking way, which frankly was just as effective.
What’s to say about Monty’s? Carnivores and vegans can sit across from each other with their Bistro Burgers and Walnut Burgers and simply talk about the weather. Liberal college students can eat their Vegetarian Hash, their conservative salt-of-the-earth grandparents can nibble at their Country Breakfast, and both can argue about whether or not Trump is a racist (he is) and Sanders is a socialist (he also is).
It is a place for everybody. How many restaurants can say that?
FINAL NOTE: Across the street from Monty's is a Gail Ambrosius, a most excellent high-end chocolatier that sells dark truffles, dipped fruit, and other exotic confections infused with an amazing variety of fruit, tea, and spices. After my hefty meal, I waddled across the street to buy a gift for my lovely wife, figuring that the chances of being tempted into chocolate excess were much lower if I was already full from lunch. Unfortunately, they were giving out free samples of their jasmine truffles, which naturally, I had to try. But I regret nothing, even if…oh Lord.