Another welcome entry onto the Capitol Square food cart roster is The Dandelion, which serves a vegetarian menu and vegan on request.
Despite its co-op shopping, farmers' market-foraging, CSA-joining reputation, Madison has had difficulty supporting a totally vegetarian restaurant. While standing in line to order at The Dandelion, I noted several would-be customers come by, softly read the menu to themselves under their breath, and walked away without ordering. That would be a mistake -- depending on how you feel about tofu -- because The Dandelion serves some delicious and different fare. Give beans (and tofu) a chance.
The Baked Tofu sandwich ($5.50) is hefty and filling and quite tasty, although it's hard to compare it to anything else. The menu states that it comes on a baguette, but I was given a choice of white, wheat or rye bread. The sandwich came on two large slices of whole wheat toast. The baked tofu was firm enough not to freak out those who hate their tofu jiggly, but it was not at all rubbery. I suppose it had a mild taste of some sort, although I'm at a loss to put it into words.
Most of the taste comes from the "meco aioli" and the avocado slices, which gives the sandwich a slightly peanut-buttery flavor. Lettuce and tomato and a chipotle cheddar cheese finish the sandwich (I skipped the onions, which would probably give it a little more zing). The cheese tasted neither like chipotle nor like cheddar so I'm not sure it really needs to be there. The overall flavor sensation was mild, pleasant, and -- stabbing around for comparisons here -- reminded me a little of the Portobello Mushroom sandwich at the Great Dane, although that sandwich has a chipotle mayo that comes through with more heat.
Speaking of which, the Dandelion's Portobello Mushroom Reuben comes with grilled mushrooms, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on rye ($6). The third sandwich is a more traditional wrap with hummus, veggies, and the chipotle cheddar on a whole wheat tortilla ($5.50). All three sandwiches come with a handful of salted tortilla chips and a small fruit salad (melon, blueberry, strawberries).
The entrees are a Texas-style barbecue tofu made with veggies ($7) and veggie fajitas made with seitan ($6.50).
A soup of the day ($2.50) is on the menu, but when I asked for a cup, the staffer said he wasn't serving it because no one was ordering it. I subbed the side of sauteed vegetables (also $2.50) which consisted of (true to menu billing) broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potato, corn, butternut squash, chickpeas, Brussels sprouts and "smoky seasonings" (delicate, not aggressive, seasoning) -- but missing the cilantro, which would have been a nice touch. Even so, the veggies were a satisfying small lunch in and of themselves. In fact, included as sides to the side were servings of sweet potato and white beans. At $2.50, the vegetable side must be one of the healthiest deals of downtown Madison.
If you're feeling just a little too virtuous, or just not full, two chocolate chip cookies ($1) will take care of that pronto. Homemade, studded with raisins and chocolate, they resemble a home baked granola bar. Could take you back to the days of the beeple bar and the guerilla cookie.
Two final notes: The Dandelion parks around the corner from Starbucks on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Its presence was at first catch-as-catch-can, but of late it's been showing up more regularly (Tues.-Fri.). And, if you are an actual vegan, ask questions, because I received different answers on ingredients depending on who was staffing the cart.