The new menu at The Winnebago from chef Will Byrd combines seemingly disparate elements. Think vegan breakfast plates and gluten-free bread alongside meaty, eggy, cheesy buttery-biscuit sandwiches and grain bowls. It’s a cohesive whole, and inclusivity is key.
“I wanted to expand the menu and add dishes for everyone, whether you eat meat or a gluten-free diet or vegetarian or junk food or healthy food,” said Byrd. However a person eats, he wanted to have “not just one option, but multiple options to choose from.”
Byrd took the reins at The Winnebago, a 7-month-old cafe and event space at 2262 Winnebago St., in June. Soon, he’ll be launching a whole new menu, designed for adaptability. Influenced just a little by Byrd’s Southern roots — the chef arrived in the Midwest by way of Tennessee last year — the new dishes also reflect his casual approach to eating.
Don’t eat bacon? Opt instead for the maple pepper tempeh on the BBLT ($7), a pesto-slicked BLT on a biscuit. A gluten-free crust can easily replace the focaccia base in any of the pizzas (available 5 p.m. to close, $5-$8). Vegan dairy substitutes are plentiful.
Much of this flexibility is born out of Byrd’s own dietary restrictions. The chef is not only vegan, but also allergic to dairy and gluten.
“Since I am vegan and I do cook things that are not vegan, I eat with my eyes and my nose,” Byrd said. “I know what it's supposed to look like, and I know what it smells like.”
He called the menu “elevated comfort food,” inspired by the joy of eating “something that tastes kind of junky but is actually fairly healthy and made from decent ingredients.”
The Winnebago’s rich, flaky biscuits are baked on premise, as is a fluffy focaccia made from an aged sourdough starter and flour from Meadowlark Organics in Ridgeway. Byrd pickles his own jalapeños and features them prominently on the menu, including in a margarita he’s been testing. Sauces, like a mushroom-coconut gravy and a delightfully mustardy, vegan cashew hollandaise in the Come As You Are breakfast plate ($11), are the stars here.
Fans of The Winnebago, opened in February by brothers John and Jake DeHaven, may appreciate the continued focus on local ingredients.
Madison Sourdough makes the toast on the breakfast menu and rich brioche bun for a chicken bacon club ($9). Byrd gets seasonal vegetables from growers at area markets and a farmers’ co-op in the Driftless Area. Bacon comes from Fort Atkinson-based Jones Dairy Farm, and Carr Valley cheddar is soon to feature on many of the dishes.
While Byrd’s menu offers complex flavors, he aims to feed patrons fast.
“I like really good food that you don't have to wait for,” Byrd said. “I like to be able to get something that is intricate but is made as quickly as possible and with the same integrity as something that is slow.”
It’s a goal that dovetails with The Winnebago’s mission as a multi-use venue. There are Saturday morning cartoons, DJ’d dance parties and low-priced community events. With the new menu, diners can grab a quick meal on the deck or in the front cafe before heading to the back room to catch a local band or the monthly comedy open mic that Byrd himself hosts.
The Winnebago has largely been viewed as an event space. But these new dishes, which are also available for takeout, seem to shift the balance toward its cafe identity.
“We make good food here,” Byrd said. The new menu “is just trying to expand on that.”