A handful of “foodie” friends in Madison have been raving about Surya Café, a vegetarian restaurant open since April 2017, so a friend and I went last week to see what it’s all about.
The café is part of a complex called Perennial that offers classes on wellness and spirituality and includes yoga studios, meditation spaces and massage-therapy rooms. It is all designed to be “a place for you to put down roots and grow”… as you shift “toward greater healing, health and vitality,” Perennial founder Megan Grace writes on its website.
The complex is housed in a building that is part of a sprawling three-or-four block development built by Promega, the huge biotechnology company based in Fitchburg.
Walking into Perennial’s complex and the Surya Café is a bit like entering a parallel universe—one where political and social divides are replaced by peace and harmony, calm and relaxation. Those attributes are achieved both by the architectural design (the ornate buildings are composed of stone, wood and glass) and the thoughtful, artistic touches of Grace and her staff: head chef Lauran Montelbano and Clare Bornemann, Perennial’s general manager.
They have created a few nice spaces at Surya (translates as “sun”) in which to dine, including an outdoor patio area surrounded by native prairie.
The café offers vegetarian options (mostly vegan, meaning no animal products are used) for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday. The full menu also is available from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The kitchen uses locally-grown and organic ingredients whenever possible and features a couple of soups and sandwiches, several grain and noodle bowls, salads, smoothies and breakfast items such as granola, spiced fruit and nut porridge, waffles and toasts. There also are snacks such as pizza and cheese boards, fresh-squeezed juices and desserts.
Based on a limited sampling of items, we were impressed with the high quality and great flavor of what we tried. We also enjoyed the friendly service and loved dining in an attractive space surrounded by quiet, soothing music and lots of natural light.
But our experience got off to kind of a rough start when we learned customers place their orders at a computer near the front of the dining room (similar to the self-checkouts you see in grocery stores) and, for some indiscernible reason, the computer wouldn’t accept our payment right away.
Once we found a person to straighten that out, the rest of our meal went well. Our order was brought to our table quickly, and the food was fresh and quite delicious.
Out of curiosity, my companion and I ordered a sunflower beet burger ($13.50) to share. It came served on a house-made, gluten-free bun with hummus, caramelized onion, greens and avocado. Despite my ambivalence about beets, it was full of flavor and something I would order again. My friend, Beth, was even more impressed.
She also loved an order of Thai carrot noodles ($12.50), which came in a bowl with red pepper, kale and broccoli, all tossed with a zesty peanut sauce and topped with cilantro, scallion and crushed peanuts. In short, it was a lot of flavor and texture in a bowl.
A satisfying Mediterranean salad ($11.50) was served in a large portion and included a roasted vegetable medley of zucchini, eggplant, portabella mushrooms, marinated red onion and sweet potato falafel served on a bed of spinach. It came with a rich “liquid gold” dressing and was topped with sun-dried tomato cashew cream.
We also liked the kitchen’s Southwest bowl ($12.50), which featured forbidden black rice and black beans with maple-cumin kale, avocado, walnut and pepita pate, topped with cilantro-lime dressing. There is a lot of flavor in this bowl as well, but it seemed a bit heavy with the flavor of beans dominating the mix.
Surya’s kitchen puts out delightful smoothies ($8-$9.50), incorporating ingredients such as spinach and mango, dates and coconut milk, peanut butter, banana and cocoa powder. Other beverages are teas and coffee and organic fresh-pressed juices with ingredients such as romaine, apples, cherries, kale, oranges, carrots, bananas and vanilla.
For dessert, there is a delicious “heavenly date bar” ($5.50), creamy cashew cheesecake ($6.50), fresh fruit salad ($4.50) and chocolate mousse with sweet berries and orange zest ($6.50).
Clearly, Surya Café isn’t for everyone. You won’t find any meat and very little dairy here, but Surya definitely meets the desires of a specific segment of the population—and it seems to be thriving in the process.
I would encourage even enthusiastic carnivores to check this place out if you have any interest in a more healthy diet, one that feels (and tastes) a bit more in harmony with the Earth and its inhabitants.