A pair of local musicians opened an arts café on the city’s east side in February, creating a quaint and warmly inviting place to eat.
The Winnebago Arts Café, 2262 Winnebago St., also serves as a music venue with live performances most evenings.
John and Jake DeHaven bought the historic cream-city brick building last year with the intention of promoting the arts while also serving locally-sourced food. They renovated the building, which had been a Sons of Norway lodge, and transformed it into a bright café in front and a performance space with an expansive bar in a larger back room.
The café features beautifully restored floor tile and displays the work of area artists on its walls. The dining room is lively and colorful with blue chairs and a rainbow of ceramic cups stacked behind a counter on one side and tables and a bench with pillows on the other.
The room has lots of windows that allow natural light to flood the space, and everything feels homemade, including the food.
The performance space in back is just the opposite of the cafe, except for its organic, homespun feel. Dark and with little natural light, it is a handsome room filled with wood. It features an open ceiling with exposed beams and ceiling timbers, and a group of tables and chairs sits in front of a stage that looks as if it was built in the 1920s as part of the original construction. The design also allows for removing tables and chairs and creating a dance floor.
The business has gone through some growing pains with various plans for hours of operation and what type of restaurant it should be. The owners recently eliminated The Winnebago’s breakfast and lunch service, opting instead to focus on dinner and weekend brunches.
During a phone conversation, an employee said the brunch menu includes items from the previous breakfast and lunch menus.
A friend and I stopped for lunch in early October, before the change, and were impressed with the café’s food and service. The dining room wasn’t busy, but we appreciated our server’s time and attention to detail nonetheless.
While I sipped from a cup of Kickapoo Coffee and my companion enjoyed a cup of chai, we perused the menu and opted for a spinach and bacon quiche ($10) and veggie scramble special ($9). Both plates came with hearty homemade bread, whipped butter and a side salad of baby greens. The food was terrific.
The menu includes breakfast choices such as granola and yogurt ($8), a buttermilk waffle with butter and maple syrup ($9) and several egg dishes along with sandwiches, salads, soups and biscuits.
Our server mentioned the biscuits—which can come with eggs, cheese, meat or gravy—are particularly popular.
The Winnebago’s quiche won me over with its rich, custard-like filling, creamy mouthfeel and perfect crust. It arrived at our table puffy and golden brown, and the combination of spinach, onion and bacon was a nice balance of protein and vegetables. The kitchen’s side salad, built around tahini garlic greens, put this plate firmly in the winner category.
My companion was equally pleased with her veggie scramble special, which featured tofu, red peppers, kale, zucchini, squash and vegan aioli sauce.
She assessed it as “an excellent mix of seasonal veggies and perennial favorites.”
With The Winnebago’s shift in emphasis from breakfast and lunch to a dinner destination, it apparently hasn’t gotten around to posting its new menu online. So while we can’t comment or recommend it for dinner, we’re certain its weekend brunch is worth the time, effort and price.
Our servers also deserve recognition for their time and attention. They made us feel welcome and seemed to go out of their way to answer questions and be attentive.
With fine food and great service in an attractive, artistic café, The Winnebago might be our new favorite spot for brunch in Madison.