Nationally respected and locally adored, Madison’s food cart scene has exploded over the past couple of years. The downtown area boasts 42 lunch vendors (as compared to the 57 in Chicago), offering quick, inexpensive, and reliably tasty eats inspired by just about every world cuisine imaginable—indeed, 77 Square contributor Lindsay Christians paints an ethnic culinary picture:
On a sunny spring day on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library Mall, an adventurous eater can sample bayou jambalaya, Peruvian cilantro rice, Thai spring rolls, Indonesian nasi goreng and crunchy balls of falafel, all without traveling more than a city block.
While enthustiastic cart patrons revel in this veritable smorgasboard of meals on wheels, Madison street vending manager and expert Warren Hansen, who has twice presented at the San Francisco Street Food Festival, asserts that “We are truly at capacity. We couldn’t jam another one downtown if we wanted to.” Hansen’s weariness certainly poses no problem to vegans, as oodles of the current food carts feature absolutely delicious animal-friendly, plant-based options, such as Banzo’s falafel and hummus platters, Dandelion’s all-vegetarian selection of hearty sandwiches and wraps, and Good Food’s customizable menu of wraps and salads to which you can add tantalizing basil baked tofu.
Always thrilled to welcome another source for vegan-friendly fare to Madison’s gastronomic scene, I first discovered Igo Vego, a 2012 newcomer to the world of food carts, at the Mad City Vegan Fest, where I did not sample the cart’s array of wholesome, handmade vegan burgers, though I vowed to revisit the brightly colored refurbished pop-up camper for lunch in the very near future.
In 2004, Tammy Markee-Mayas, the founder of Igo Vego, began educating herself and her family about the corrupt intentions of the American food industry and sought to transition her diet to a more health- and earth-friendly one via a vegetarian, locally sourced lifestyle. Tammy recounts her truly remarkable journey into the food cart realm and beyond on her website, summing it up with her honorable and ambitious set of goals:
Our idea is simple. We make delicious, healthful, convenient, sustainable, and absolutely chemical-free vegan burgers with love and integrity; we source as much organic and local ingredients and work directly with local producers as we are able; and we strive to minimize garbage and remain focused on composting.
And there is so much more that we want to do! Like creating opportunities for aspiring farmers to acquire land and learn how to grow following the permaculture model, to empower the people we work with, and to establish sustainable, strong, local economies – economies made by the people, for the people, and directly benefitting the people in that community.
Separating her future plans into four phases, Tammy envisions first selling her burgers wholesale to local restaurants and retailers, as well as directly to the public at the farmers market and online. From there, she hopes to open a flagship “cafe market,” eventually transitioning to a co-op business model and establishing storefronts across the state, the Midwest, and finally the nation. Go Tammy!
Needless to say, Tammy’s passion toward wholesome eating and sourcing local, sustainably grown products only heightened my sense of urgency to sample the Igo Vego menu. At my first opportunity, I biked to Capitol Square with Connor, my restaurant-perusing companion who frequently occurs in the blog’s restaurant review posts, on a gorgeously sunny day, ravenous after working at the Troy Kids’ Garden for four-and-a-half hours and extremely excited to gobble up a hearty, veggie-loaded vegan burger.
As a gluten-free eater, I wholeheartedly appreciate Igo Vego’s option to order any of their four unique veggie burgers served on a bed of brown rice instead of a vegan bun (locally sourced from Nature’s Bakery Co-op, by the way!). All of their burgers sounded absolutely delectable—the Veg-Out features black and brown rice, kale, carrots, celery, and a secret sauce; the Sweet-n-Spicy boasts walnuts, sweet potatoes, and jalapenos; the Two-Alarm Chili promises a spicy kick with brown and black rice, kidney, pinto, and black beans, bell peppers, and chili powder; and the Mystic Mushroom marries three types of mushrooms with kale and sundried tomatoes. I opted for the Mystic Mushroom burger served on a generous mound of brown rice and topped with succulent diced heirloom tomato, slathered with mashed avocado, and drizzled in a savory almond cream. *The clouds part and the angels sing as the aforementioned pile of deliciousness descends from the heavens.* Not one to pass up a massaged kale salad, I also ordered a side of the Garden Veggie Hearty Harvest Salad, one of two salad specials for the day (I strongly suspect that they rotate these salads according to seasonal availability).
Igo Vego’s patties sport a soft, light texture, rather than a dense, chewy one—certainly not a negative quality, but simply different from most of the veggie burgers I’ve experienced previously. The intensely savory, complex flavors of the patties, however, will surely delight any food cart patron, regardless of how they prefer the texture of their veggie burgers. Rife with impressively fresh juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, sweet yellow bell peppers, and tender kale, the salad also left me quite delighted. Though I decided to forgo dessert on this particular occasion, Igo Vego also offers two raw nut-and-date balls—the Loco Cocoa bites with walnuts, dates, maple syrup, and cocoa; and the Nutty ‘Nilla bites with hazelnuts, maple syrup, dates, and vanilla bean powder—two more reasons to return to the newly established and thriving food cart!
Igo Vego’s healthy offerings certainly transcend the stereotype of food cart cuisine as heavy, oily, and devoid of vegetables. I eagerly await my return to the cart to sample the rest of their three veggie burgers and look forward to Igo Vego’s expansion into a brick-and-mortar restaurant—I’m confident they have a successful future in store.
Until next time, Ali.