Greenhouse Canteen & Bar Offers Well-Prepared, Often Delicious Plant-Based Fare
The Australian import in Columbus’ Fifth by Northwest neighborhood is a comforting respite for large portions of vegan and gluten-free food, with few missteps.
Two years ago this month, Greenhouse Canteen & Bar opened its doors on the ever-expanding Fifth Avenue corridor in the Grandview vicinity. The all-vegan and gluten-free restaurant was—and still is—the first stateside outpost of a small Australian chain.
The restaurant’s original location in Queensland opened in 2013, capitalizing on the ever-increasing demand for plant-based dining as the ethos of a restaurant, not merely an afterthought. In its home country, the restaurant is marketed as “ve-glam”—an upscale approach to animal-free dishes.
The latter is the part that gives me pause. As a critic, my ultimate goal is to answer a simple, two-part question with every review: What does this restaurant want to be, and is it successful?
Greenhouse Canteen, whose local menu is nearly identical to that of its Australian sister locations, sets unfair expectations for itself by calling itself upscale. The vibe is much more of a casual café. Bright and airy with emerald green accents and blond wood tables and chairs, all lit by oversized Edison lightbulb pendants. Portions are almost comically huge. And dishes often lack finesse and editing, with too many extras thrown onto the plate.
I’ll stop there, lest you begin to think that I did not enjoy dining at Greenhouse Canteen. Despite its identity crisis (and overstuffed plates), most of the dishes here are well-seasoned, well-prepared and addictingly delicious.
The steadfast menu is influenced by comfort food-style dishes from all over the globe—from Mexico to Morocco to Korea—and is divided into small plates and mains, though a meal could be made out of either depending on your level of hunger. Some of the most successful dishes hail from the deep fryer.
Battered and fried with chickpea flour, the cauliflower wings ($12) are a lively starter, especially when doused with the recommended Korean sauce that has an impeccable balance of sweetness and heat. Served on the side, the cooling cashew ranch is a nice touch, as is the ample side salad with punchy vinaigrette. Add crackly shoestring fries and a Jackie O’s Mystic Mama IPA and you’ve got a memorable, bar-food-esque meal.
The outer shell of the arancini balls ($14) satisfyingly cracks like an egg, exposing a creamy brown rice and caramelized mushroom center. It’s a tasty dish but could have used a bit more of the promised sage, and a little less of the cashew Parmesan that’s so heavy-handed on nutritional yeast, it’s distracting.
The mushroom cheeseburger ($20) is one of the more interesting dishes on the menu. It’s a towering fork-and-knife affair that replaces the bun with tempura-fried portabella mushrooms—a clever touch as the crackling of the tempura feels as satisfying as a well-toasted bun. The lentil and tofu patty is well-seasoned and holds its shape nicely.
Other successful dishes include the pumpkin Alfredo gnocchi ($15), a textbook fall dish. The gnocchi are soft, pillowy. The bright orange pumpkin sauce is rich and nutty. Perfectly charred mushrooms cut through the richness. And a slight undercurrent of truffle oil gives it earthy dimension. Meanwhile, the vermicelli pancake ($18) is a dense and crisp, dinner-plate-size noodle dish topped with fiery tofu scramble. The dish practically vibrates with a chile jam that has caramelized onion sweetness and hot pepper heat.
Some dishes could have benefited from a little more focus. The jackfruit in the enchiladas ($22) is tender and wonderfully cumin-spiced, and every bite was made better by the vegan sour cream and sides of pickled onions and cabbage. If the dish had stopped there, it would be a home run. There was really no need for the bitter chocolate mole drizzled on top or the undressed side of lettuce—sideshows that distracted from the main event. The eggplant moussaka ($22) is an ambitious dish attempting a vegan béchamel to tie the roasted eggplant and lentil stew together. But it misses the mark, too nutty and thick in consistency. The flavors are good, but there are better dishes to be found here.
Service is the brightest spot at Greenhouse Canteen. On two visits, the staff were attentive and clear champions for the food, describing dishes with such deftness and enthusiasm that I wanted to order everything. This also makes me believe there are more plant-based gems yet to be discovered and served at this stateside spot.
Greenhouse Canteen & Bar
1011 W. Fifth Ave., Fifth by Northwest, 614-525-0202
Hours: 5 p.m. to close Monday through Saturday
Not to Miss: The spicy cauliflower wings doused in a Korean sauce, arancini balls and the vermicelli pancake
This story is from the October 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.