Tapioca is the key to Willalby's vegan French toast.
Cold cereal, the typical American breakfast, is easy to make vegan. Swap the dairy milk for soy, almond or coconut milk, and you're good to go. Oatmeal is another quick, plant-based morning meal.
Heading to a restaurant for breakfast, however, is where things can get a little more challenging for those who avoid meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products.
Tofu scrambles are fairly common on Madison menus, particularly in the Willy Street neighborhood. Most are simply adequate, but a few are worthy of a special trip. At least two restaurants offer vegan hot cereal, which is fine, but I was looking for more inspired breakfast fare.
For those craving a sweet, rather than savory, breakfast, there are a couple of local standouts, including vegan French toast and vegan waffles — but no vegan pancakes. This is a serious void in Madison's breakfast scene.
Pancake shortage aside, Madison restaurants are serving some tasty, filling vegan breakfasts. Here are my five favorites.
Vegan French toast with blueberries, Willalby's Café
There is much to like about Willalby's: good food, comfy booths, fresh coffee, friendly staff. I've heard stories of slow service, but we were greeted promptly, and our food came out fast.
The French toast is my top pick of the three vegan breakfasts on the menu. Our server said the vegan batter uses tapioca as a binder instead of eggs. My toast was beautifully browned on the outside and moist on the inside, finished with a light dusting of powdered sugar and covered in a generous helping of warm, fresh blueberries. A dollop of melty vegan butter finished the dish
Tofu scramble, Mickey's Tavern
Tofu scramble is the sole vegan item on Mickey's weekend brunch menu, and it's fantastic. It's not the most common type of tofu scramble, where the object is usually to mimic scrambled eggs. Mickey's tofu is marinated in peanut sauce for Asian-inspired flavor. The resulting texture is firmer than most scrambles, slightly crumbly but still moist. It's sautéed with fresh spinach, bell peppers and onions and served with served with consistently good oven-roasted potatoes, always browned on the outside and fluffy on inside. If you're a vegan, ask for dry toast.
Vegan hash, Monty's Blue Plate Diner
Monty's serves breakfast all day and has several vegan options. The vegan hash edges out the rest by featuring Bandung tempeh, which is superior to any tempeh I've tried. Made from fermented soy, it has a firm bite and tremendous flavor. The tempeh, potatoes, bell peppers and onions are finely diced and cooked together on the grill to make the hash. The seasoning is delicious — I tasted fennel seed, cumin and black pepper.
The vegan hash comes with tofu scramble, which is also tasty. Monty's version has fresh spinach, celery and onion. The dish also includes fruit and toast. My fruit, however, a mix of cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple chunks, was mostly unripe and nearly flavorless. Other than color, it added nothing to the meal.
Vegan nuevos rancheros, Green Owl Café
Huevos rancheros is a traditional Mexican meal of fried eggs served on corn tortillas and smothered in salsa, though there are many variations. For Green Owl's vegan nuevos rancheros, tofu scramble stands in for the eggs. The scramble is well seasoned and neither too dry nor too mushy. It's topped with vegan chorizo, black beans and spicy roasted-jalapeño "Green Owl" sauce. The heat of the chorizo and jalapeño sauce is nicely balanced with cool sliced avocado and vegan sour cream.
This dish has a lot going on, but it comes together well for a satisfying breakfast. Vegan nuevos rancheros is on Green Owl's brunch menu, served on Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Vegan waffle, Lazy Jane's Cafe
It's not listed on the menu, but Lazy Jane's staff confirmed that the cafe's vegan waffle is available for breakfast every day. The kitchen will make the batter from scratch per order, so don't order the vegan waffle if you're in a hurry.
Choices for toppings include fresh fruit and nuts, as well as vegan butter. I opted for sliced bananas and chopped pecans. My waffle was almost the size of my plate — a thick Belgian waffle with deep indentations to hold plenty of syrup. The banana was perfectly ripe, and the pecans added a pleasant crunch. Golden and crisp on the outside, my waffle was slightly undercooked in the center, however, so Lazy Jane's loses a few points there.