Vegetarians rejoice! After closing its doors last summer, long-time Collegetown favorite ABC Café has reopened under new management in the old storefront on Stewart Avenue with a new name: the Giving Tree Café. The new restaurant, which opened on Jan. 13, is co-owned by former ABC employees Sean Lunny, Rob Delphous and Ananda Barreno, and it features a duplex location with coffee and tea beverages, pastries and desserts in the north room and vegetarian soups, salads and sandwiches in the south. I brought two friends — one omnivore and one vegetarian — for a lunch-time visit to give the café a shot.
Walking inside, an eclectic collection of furniture, dark floors and a coffered ceiling blend smoothly with the locally-made artwork adorning the walls to create an atmosphere that is both hip and friendly. Sean, one of the new restaurant’s owners, was working as a part of the wait staff during my visit. He was affable and attentive, but more importantly he was extremely helpful in the difficult menu-selection decision-making process, as he explained which items were most popular among our fellow lunch-goers (the spicy Reuben and the ABC burger, a carryover from the old restaurant).
While the menu was a bit on the sparse side, Sean assured us that the full menu would be up and running in time for the café’s early February grand opening. All of the items on the menu are vegetarian and many are vegan or made with ingredients that are raw, organic, locally-sourced and gluten-free. Most of the menu items fall into the average price range for Collegetown restaurant fare.
I ordered the spicy Reuben (made with tempeh, which is like tofu but a bit stronger) with a side salad, while my compatriots got a vegetarian burger with cheese and a bowl of potato-leek soup with a salad.
Our meal arrived without much of a wait, and it was quite tasty. My Reuben featured a hot sauce made in-house, which was flavorful, fragrant and spicy enough to keep me draining my water glass without being overwhelming. The tempeh blended nicely with the acidic tang of sauerkraut. The salad was a fresh, tender mix of leafy greens; it was well-complemented by a light vinaigrette.
For the purposes of research, I mooched a bit of the other two meals that we had at the table. The vegetarian burger was presented beautifully, with a shiny, tall bun and a sizeable stack of vegetables on top. The burger itself was very light and fluffy, with a delicate juicy flavor that hinted of carrot and mushroom. While the sandwiches and salads were all very good, I think that the real standout was the potato-leek soup, which combined exceptional creaminess with the refreshing, mild flavor of leek.
The Giving Tree Café presents a strong dessert menu, with tasty-sounding vegetarian dishes and a few unexpected offerings, such as zucchini bread. Also, all of the café drinks are available for purchase on the restaurant side.
Overall, I enjoyed my visit to the Giving Tree Café and will be sure to stop by again, though I may have to deal with a crowd — the café’s light vegetarian and vegan-friendly fare is sure to gather a following in Ithaca. Giving Tree’s page on Facebook suggests that the famed ABC brunch will be making a grand Giving Tree style comeback at some point in the near future, and also that local musicians — their presence was a part of what gave the old café much of its flavor — will be rocking lower Collegetown once more.
The Giving Tree Café is located at 310 Stewart Avenue, and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. RLD