Get Comfy at The Winnebago

By Grace Timmerman | Photographed by Sunny Franz

There’s no question that you’re on the Near East Side of Madison when you step into The Winnebago, and there’s no mistaking its novelty either. Inspired by their late mother, who was a multi-media artist, brothers Jake and John DeHaven, along with several friends, went to great lengths to renovate the Sons of Norway building into a mash-up destination whose main room resembles, as head chef Will Byrd puts it, “an upside-down ship.”

The bar and dining nook that first welcomes you is brimming with natural light, modern pastels, and artwork that makes you feel right at home. You can admire locally-thrown coffee mugs as you sip a refreshing grapefruit mimosa (pleasantly tart), and the Biscuit of the Day is sure to pause conversation while its unpretentious, layered flavors slowly reveal their complexity between slices of comforting, buttery pastry.

Since The Winnebago’s inception there’s been an emphasis on an inclusive menu with an abundance of vegetables. As Jake DeHaven and Byrd explain, after hosting a Winnebago stand-up comedy show at its back-room entertainment area, they hope friends who eat meat will be just as satisfied as friends who don’t. “We’re making comfort food that can also be healthy and that people wouldn’t necessarily make on their own at home,” says Byrd. Think you’re not a tempeh fan? When Byrd dips it in lemon pepper and layers it with a fried egg, fresh greens and a smear of homemade aioli, you’ll likely change your tune.

They also actively strive for their establishment to be affordable, which can be a challenge when trying to support local purveyors. The Winnebago’s team is painstakingly cultivating valuable relationships in order to create dishes that are unmistakably Wisconsin-grown, but not to be mistaken with anyone else’s menu in town.

Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, The Winnebago’s newest chef brings humble southern soul to a menu packed with local Wisconsin products. The main dinner staple at the time of writing is focaccia pizza—crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside—made with stone-ground, unprocessed Lonesome Stone flour from Lone Rock, Wisconsin. Favorite flavor combinations include the Veggienator—a winning medley of garlic, feta and spinach—and the BBQ tofu.

Another great example of “elevated comfort food” is the Tahini Kale Salad, a simple, gently massaged ode to the green of the decade, garnished with rainbow radishes and ribbons of fresh carrot. No one in Madison is new to the nation’s kale obsession, but the tangy, creamy, and savory tahini dressing reclassifies what could be a “good enough” salad into the “clean plate club” category.

And there’s so much more to come. Diners can look forward to burgers and more varied sandwiches, expanded dinner options, pop-up collaborations and espresso drinks.

DeHaven emphasizes that the Winnie’s encompassing concept was created around the Viennese-style stage, uniquely suited to much more than live music (although there will be no shortage of that). In addition to comedy, check out open mic nights, jazz ensembles, spoken word poetry and more. “Historically, Madison’s East Side has always been a creative hub,” says DeHaven. “We want to contribute to that by offering an authentically Madison cultural experience.” | 2262 Winnebago St, Madison

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