Green Dog Cafe is exploding on the scene and so far has been met with mixed reviews. Why? Because it’s different.
Seeing as it was started by veteran restaurateurs Mark and Mary Swortwood, who also started the Brown Dog Cafe in Blue Ash and Tinks Cafe in Clifton, the decision to forgo conventional table service in favor of a walk-up counter wasn’t made on a whim. However, I personally don’t think it was the best choice for this restaurant. With a menu that includes appetizers, desserts, wine and cocktails, having a few minutes to sit down and peruse the menu before ordering just makes sense. This is not to mention the fact that entrées are priced between $9 and $14 and aren’t made before your eyes or served in a paper or foil wrapping.
During my visit, the unconventional ordering method caught us off guard and we took menus to a table for a few minutes to decide what we wanted. The menu features some interesting options and lets you know which items are vegetarian or gluten-free. Many selections are Mexican- or Mediterranean-inspired, others are unique vegetarian or vegetarian-capable wraps, bowls and sandwiches. I’ve heard good things about their fries, but for some reason we passed on the GD Chile Cheese Fries (yes, chile not chili) which are served with salsa verde, shredded white cheddar, cuban black beans and sour cream.
We did order — all at once — the Fresh Guacamole appetizer ($9.50), a Mom and Pop Dog ($11), the “Hey Perro” Wrap ($11) and a couple cocktails. We received a number to place in the little holder at our table and the pseudo-table service from then on was non-intrusive but effective. There are booths, high-tops and conventional tables to choose from in the open and bright dining room. A booth seemed like the most comfortable option.
Fairly quickly, the generous serving of guacamole and corn chips arrived. The guac was mixed with fresh tomato salsa, but it was still decidedly guacamole. It had a homemade look, with some small chunks, but my girlfriend and I agreed that it was lacking in seasoning, even though the vegetable purist in me appreciated the fresh-tasting effect of the under-seasoned avocado and tomato. Adding a little salt really kicked it up a notch though, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it one way or the other. Unfortunately, we ran out of chips with plenty of guac still left to go.
The Mom and Pop Dog just sounded too wacky not to try. It consists of a Cincinnati secret recipe hot dog wrapped in bacon and deep fried, served with Dijon mustard, tomato jam and pineapple salad on a home made bun. It was awesome. The unlikely combination of the smoky bacon, sweet pineapple salad and zingy mustard tasted better with every bite. It was damn near impossible to pick up and eat because of the thickness and fragility of the homemade poppy seed bun. I used a fork and knife — no big deal. The side of green salad that I chose was just baby greens tossed with a little bit of light tasting vinaigrette. They could have done a little more with that for the price.
The “Hey Perro” Wrap had the same underseasoned vibe as the guacamole and I had the same reaction to it. Consisting of Cuban black beans, fresh corn salad, brown rice, tomato salsa, avocados and Manchego fresco inside a flour tortilla, it is a hearty but plain item. It was refreshing to taste the combination of ingredients in their plain state, but a little salt would’ve gone a long way. The GD Kimchee we chose as a side was not like Korean Kimchee, but was a crunchy, sweet and zesty pickled cabbage that was original and delicious.
We also took the liberty to try out some cocktails because … well, what the hell, right? The Southside Cocktail ($6.50) really hit the spot with its simple mix of gin, lime juice and mint. Though I think there was a little Sambuca or something in it too because of the backdrop of licorice that made it a real lip-smacker. The Margarita was also tasty and, as the fellow at the next table assured us, margaritas are always a good idea.
The Green Dog Cafe aims to offer a green and vegetarian-friendly take on dining, using locally sourced ingredients, many organic, and even using eco-friendly building materials where possible. They’ve done a great job with that. Is that what everyone is looking for? No. Is this restaurant a little odd and quirky? Yes. But I think it adds something special to the Columbia-Tusculum area and to Cincinnati’s dining scene. I’d eat there again if for no other reason than to show a vegetarian friend that there are other great dining options out there for them.