I have to admit a friend and I were skeptical when we heard about Good Food Low Carb Café opening last April on the city’s east side. It wasn’t just the café’s peculiar name but also its signature menu item—the zoodle bowl—that was the source of our doubt.
But it didn’t take long after entering the brightly painted, vibrant restaurant in a strip mall on Cottage Grove Road for our expectations to shift. The restaurant’s red walls, accented with turquoise, lifted our spirits, and the glass dessert case near a front counter where customers place orders also looked promising.
The menu is written by hand on a chalkboard near the counter, and it notes most of the ingredients used here are locally sourced.
We were greeted by a friendly staff member, who explained zoodles—which are make from zucchini—are a tasty, low-carbohydrate alternative to noodles. The café offers six zoodle bowls, all of which are chock full of healthy ingredients that look as delicious as they taste.
The menu also features low-carb appetizers, soups, salads, lettuce “tacos,” wraps, flatbread pizzas and lots of desserts. The kitchen also turns out daily specials, which was a grilled salmon filet with veggies ($17) on the night of our visit. It wasn’t the greatest salmon, we thought, as its marinade rendered it a bit too salty for our tastes.
Our server recommended a hummus plate with flatbread and vegetables ($5.95) as a starter, and we went with it. The hummus was richly flavored with a hint of garlic, and it came with sliced carrots, celery, bell pepper and flatbread sticks made with almonds.
A plate of five Asian meatballs ($5.95) made of pork, beef and scallions and seasoned with ginger and garlic also was also a winner. The meatballs were served in a bowl with homemade ginger-tamari sauce, which hit all the right flavor notes.
Next we turned to the zoodle bowls, ordering a pad Thai bowl ($6.50 small, $8.25 large) and creamy artichoke chicken zoodles (also $6.50-$8.25). The former featured sautéed rainbow zoodles (zucchini and summer squash noodles in spiral shapes) in a peanut pad Thai sauce with grilled tofu, fresh herbs, peanuts and bean sprouts. There was a lot of flavor and texture here, which we learned is characteristic of zoodle bowls.
The artichoke chicken bowl featured a chicken breast smothered in a white wine and artichoke sauce on zoodles with lemon, Parmesan and fresh basil. Again, tasty, but it had less texture than the pad Thai.
The café’s salads can be served as a traditional salad, a lettuce leaf taco or wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.
During a return visit, I checked out the aptly named Greek super food salad ($5 or $7.50), which offered lots of kale with kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, bell pepper, tomato, cucumber, red onion and fresh chopped greens with a citrus vinaigrette. It was another dish that demonstrated healthy food can also be tasty and satisfying, particularly when using fresh, locally sourced produce.
I also sampled a small order of the café’s Margherita flatbread ($6.95), which was loaded with fresh mozzarella topped with basil and tomato in a traditional Italian combination. This is a plate I’d come back to enjoy again, but I could say that about most of the food here.
The desserts didn’t disappoint, either. The kitchen uses stevia instead of sugar to sweeten its desserts. This leaves something of an aftertaste, but not so much that it distracts much from the flavor.
Of the café’s seven dessert options, we shared a plate of key lime cheesecake ($6.45) that was served in a portion meant for two. I later enjoyed a chocolate-topped peanut butter bar ($3.75), as well. The key lime cheesecake was fine, with an almond and lime zest-based crust, but the stevia lent a slightly bitter flavor to the peanut bar.
One of the nicest things about the café is its staff members, who are knowledgeable and helpful in explaining the menu and also super friendly.
You don’t have to be a vegetarian or a “health nut” to appreciate a restaurant such as Good Food Low Carb Café, but if meat and potatoes are your thing, it’s probably not going to fulfill your desires.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.