Welcome to the Owlery, a fun and quirky eatery in Bloomington’s Near West Side neighborhood, whose name pays whimsical homage to Harry Potter novels and signals a welcome for those who stay up until the wee hours. The latter is not too surprising in a restaurant owned by two musicians, but for now, 34-year-old Ryan Woods and 21-year-old Toby Foster are (mostly) eschewing music for food, with Woods working the front of the house and Foster in the kitchen.
The food they produce is eclectic vegetarian. Knowing that many vegetarians began life as carnivores and miss the foods they grew up with, Foster uses tofu, seitan, and tempeh as meat substitutes to create the taste memories vegetarians crave. The menu combines soups and sandwiches, such as the “B.L.T.,” “Reuben,” and “Philly Cheesesteak,” with soul-satisfying comfort foods like fried “chicken” with mashed potatoes and gravy, “fish” and chips, and poutine, a Canadian concoction of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy that is not for the faint of stomach. There are also vegan pierogies, so popular that the Owlery employs a high school student whose sole job is to make the savory Eastern European dumplings. Recent menu changes also put some healthier and more elegant alternatives on the menu, like grilled tempeh with a white-wine-and-dill sauce and vegetable-and-seitan kabobs, the seitan as juicy and succulent as, well, meat. There is a daily seasonal vegetable and, always, collard greens, long braised and flavorful.
For all of the Owlery’s hip and trendy air, the restaurant manages to exude the warmth of a favorite neighborhood pub (aided by the fact that they offer beer on tap). In fact, the Owlery is a very friendly place both in the sense that it is run by friends who all seem to have a good time working together, and in the sense that it is friendly not only to animals—none of whom give their lives for the sake of the good food on the table—but also to vegans. The default choices on the menu are dairy- and egg-free; if you want dairy cheese, you need to request it. For those on a gluten-free diet, the restaurant provides an entire gluten-free menu to those who ask for it. It is apparent that Woods and Foster are not only committed to vegetarianism themselves (Foster is vegan) but try to be responsive to all the dietary preferences of their customers.
Menu changes have kept Woods and Foster busy all summer. Now that things are settling in, they are excited to have more time to plan specials, to use unusual ingredients, and to push their limits a little. That includes offering more music shows. When they are open late, they have a special late-night menu of small plates and snacks designed to appeal to the night owls they had in mind when they named their restaurant. Find them on Facebook or go to theowleryrestaurant.com and sign up for their Twitter feed to keep up with menu specials and musical events.