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Bean Sprouts Cafe

Update 11/4/10: Bean Sprouts is closing.

In a word: The foo(broccoli)d's not ba(zucchini)d but the vegetab(cauliflower)les are hidden.

The specs: #0304
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Mom Appeal, Razakius, Madison Magazine, Cap Times 8/29/2007 and 12/13/2007, Middleton Times Tribune, Isthmus; Madison Originals profile; official web site; Bean Sprouts on Urbanspoon

Latest Bean Sprouts Cafe news and reviews

Bean Sprouts Cafe JM ate the mac and cheese with a banana octopus.
Nichole ate the chicken stir fry.
The bill was $17, or $8.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Bean Sprouts Cafe a C+; Nichole gave Bean Sprouts Cafe a B- (see our grading rubric).

Bean Sprouts seems to come to Middleton with the same idea Missy Chase Lapine and Jessica Seinfeld('s team) wrote about in their respective books The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious: parents can puree and hide veggies in their kids' food. Nichole read up on the restaurant before we went (something she doesn't often do until after we form our own impression) and this made for interesting dinner conversation.

We didn't think ahead enough to arrange for our usual pint-sized beards to come along, but it's to Bean Sprouts' credit that they didn't bat an eye at two unaccompanied majors ordering off the kid-centric menu. The service was very friendly in a very, very motherly way. As in, one of the owners' moms helped us.

Each entree at Bean Sprouts comes in three sizes, which is something Nichole at least wishes other restaurants would emulate. She ordered the medium-sized special, chicken stir-fry, and JM got a full sized mac and cheese with a banana octopus on the side.

Mac and cheese and banana octopus

During the short wait for our meals, we enjoyed the groaner puns and caricatures of various beans that decorate several walls. We felt like we should have brought along our Bohnanza deck. We also contemplated drawing on the chalkboard in one corner, but stayed put in our (thankfully full-sized) plastic chairs. JM was a little bit anti-the-kid-iPod-generated soundtrack which included, to his ears, the most insipid version of "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" ever, which, if you know the song, is not easy to accomplish.

The food itself was just OK. Nichole's stir fry was pretty standard: tot-sized bites of chicken, broccoli, red pepper, zucchini, and strong yellow onions came over lightly seasoned brown rice with whole-wheat pita bread (an unusual choice) on the side. JM's mac and cheese wouldn't have fooled his 6-year-old self: it wasn't really cheesy enough. The vegetables were detectable, mostly through a grainy, fibrous  texture they imparted to the dish, but were unidentifiable. The banana octopus was pretty darn cute and tasty as bananas go.

Chicken stir fry

The dishes were about the same size - if anything, the medium was larger than the full-size. Consistency might be a kink Bean Sprouts will want to work out. The price, too, seemed steep; had we been feeding a family, we could have easily spent $40 on what's essentially an unfamiliar version of mom's home cooking, and the question would remain: would kids find this as fun as parents find it guiltless?

Which brings us to the central idea behind Bean Sprouts: the hiding veggies thing. We can see the appeal to harried parents: kids need to eat veggies, and if they won't, maybe you can't push too hard because you need to pick your battles. But we suspect overusing this technique might give kids the wrong idea about what eating well means. ("I never need to eat broccoli - we never had any when I was a kid.")

Concerned that we'd be talking out our asparagus, we asked an expert, our friend Monnie the nutritionist and food blogger, and this is part of what she had to say about the puree phenomenon:

If vegetables in their true form accompany a meal, I feel much better about adding vegetable and fruit purees as sort of fortifying a food with extra stuff, but without them, it's like they were never there, and thus children don't get that exposure; they're hiding! It's so deceptive!

Children should grow up having a good relationship with food - all foods. They should know from the beginning about what's good for them and what isn't. It shouldn't be a secret we're keeping. If they're never exposed to fruits and vegetables, etc., why would we think that they would grow up to love the stuff?

Indeed. We note with not a little chagrin that Missy Chase Levine has thought of that - her next book is aimed at wives of men who never learned to eat their veggies. A logical and profitable next step, to be sure, but takes this whole passive-aggressive schema to a new low.

All that aside, the women who run Bean Sprouts can be commended for their business acumen (and the sins of the cookbook market are certainly not their fault). They've taken a hot idea, made it cute and welcoming, and marketed it to the perfect community. There's always big bucks to be made off female guilt, and what better city for both than Middleton?


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This is easily my favorite review from you guys in recent memory. I came here ready to read about kids' meals, and yet you managed to sneak in some social commentary! By the time I was done, I realized I had been more intellectually nourished than I would have anticipated.

I agree, great review. Don't think I'll be eating here by the looks of your photos either.

I realize this is an older review, but this has become a family favorite. My kiddos love the food (and so do we!), plus the cleanliness, playfulness and cleverness can't be beat! Bravo!

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