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When Molly Maciejewski, executive chef and general manager of Madison Sourdough, decided to debut a new menu just in time for fall she had one thing at the front of her mind: vegetables.
"Eating more vegetables is the way a lot of us, meaning the people who work here, are trying to eat," Maciejewski says. "And I think it's the way that a lot of people in this neighborhood are trying to eat."
It's been almost ten years since Maciejewski moved to Madison to open Madison Sourdough's cafe with her brother-in-law, Drew Hutchison. Madison Sourdough has been in business close to 30 years, Maciejewski says, but when Hutchison and a business partner bought the bakery ten years ago they had a vision of moving it back to the Willy Street neighborhood and expanding the bakery's offerings. The spot originated on the east side but had since moved to a location on the far west side.
"Drew and I had talked about opening a restaurant some day, but we didn't expect to do it at that point," Maciejewski says. "But he called me one day and said ‘I found a space for the bakery and it's perfect for a restaurant so I need you to move to Madison in two months.'"
Originally from Sheboygan, Maciejewski worked in restaurants at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the American Club in Kohler before she moved to Madison. "I have a degree in English so like everyone else I went to work in a restaurant," Maciejewski jokes.
With a background in fine dining, Maciejewski went to work on developing a menu for the bakery's cafe. "It was the first time I had been a part of a restaurant opening and my first head chef job so it was a steep learning curve," Maciejewski says. "My vision and Drew's was because Madison Sourdough is an existing brand with a quality reputation for bread — it was 95 percent wholesale at that time — I thought the bread should stay the main focus and we should work the culinary aesthetic off this rustic, made-from-hand thing that Madison Sourdough is already doing so well. We had some salads but most of our opening menu was sandwiches."
While Madison Sourdough's menu, which features breakfast and lunch dishes, would change three to four times a year, at some point Maciejewski realized that changing a menu is expensive and she began to focus on running seasonally appropriate specials with local produce "like tomatoes that have a short season," she says.
But earlier this year Maciejewski decided it was time for an overhaul. "We needed to make some changes, we needed to push ourselves a bit," Maciejewski says. "Everyone needs to be kept interested — not just customers but the staff. People don't necessarily want to make the same things every day. It felt like we could do better than our past menu—I think you should think that with every menu— and I wanted to put more of a vegetable focus on the menu. There is something about going into fall, there is always a lot of transition for us ... it felt like the right time."
So in early October, gone was the chalkboard menu, replaced with a cleaner, simpler version displaying new menu items. "We wanted a more streamlined look," Maciejewski says. Maciejewski's sister, and Hutchison's wife, Emily Hutchison, Madison Sourdough's graphic artist and photographer, focused on the printed design, sketching the herbs that appear on the new menu.
While Madison Sourdough's breads are still an integral part of the cafe's dishes, colorful root vegetables like beets, carrots and sweet potatoes take center stage. A vegetarian standout on the new menu is the roasted sweet potato and yogurt bowl with spiced yogurt, Calabrian chili honey, feta, fresh mint, lemon and an over easy egg, served with a thick slice of grilled sourdough bread. Don't skip eating the skin of the roasted sweet potato — it's one of the tastiest parts of the dish. "When we were testing it out one of my sous chefs was like, ‘wait, you're not going to peel it? You can sweet potato skin?' And I said, ‘you can if you wash it, season it and roast it,'" Maciejewski says.
One of Maciejewski's new favorite dishes is the beet hummus bowl. "It's a really beautifully vibrant hummus because we put red roasted beets in it. When you think about fall and winter everything in Wisconsin is brown," Maciejewski says. "This is a really intense color, and then we put a big pile of vegetables that are tossed in vinaigrette and served with grilled bread. It's hearty, which not all vegetarian and vegan dishes are, and it's bright and really aesthically beautiful."
While the beet hummus bowl comes standard with anchovy vinaigrette and feta cheese, a vegan vinaigrette is substituted for those who want a vegetarian dish, and the feta is also removed to make it vegan. Which is exactly how Maciejewski wanted the new menu to be — customizable. "With some small modifications, one-third of the menu can be made vegan," Maciejewski says. "I like the idea that we can have something for a lot of people ... having things that are flexible is important to us."
In keeping with the spirit of a new minimalist look, you won't find a lot of symbols on the menu, but that's intentional. "Sometimes menus get carried away with symbols — and it can be helpful — but I really like that in some ways certain things encourage a dialogue between our front of house and the customer," Maciejewski says. "I feel like you get a lot more information that way and learn about the company and what we believe in." Maciejewski says that there are no "hidden" meat products on the menu — if it's in the dish it's listed on the menu — and there is also a "cheat sheet" at the front register that lists modifications.
"I like the idea that with the exception of someone with celiac — nothing against celiacs but we are a bakery with a flour mill — that we can make a good meal for anyone who wants to come here," Maciejewski says.