ROUND LAKE - Round Lake Vineyards & Winery has hired executive chef Brendan Waltz, who began his new position April 3 and introduced a new summer menu May 1.
Waltz comes to Round Lake following 15 years experience as a chef, including the last eight years at Minerva’s in Okoboji, Iowa. He has also previously worked in Omaha, Neb., Minneapolis and Sioux City, Iowa.
The winery’s menu has developed significantly since opening in 2015.
At first, only charcuterie options were offered in addition to wine and other beverage selections. In 2016, a food trailer opened, which served pizza, burgers and other classic lunch meals. Last year, the winery started offering steaks and seafood on the weekends.
“The core of the menu is still there,” Waltz said. “We’re still going for approachable food; we’re just running the gamut on the food we offer.”
Vanessa Moore, the winery’s marketing and brand manager, said the menu will keep popular, loved items - but elevated versions of them.
For example, owner Scott Ellenbecker added, instead of just a pepperoni pizza, the winery’s pepperoni flatbread pizza also includes pepperoncini.
“It’s food that is meant to be shared and paired with wine,” he continued, recommending a pairing of the pepperoni flatbread with a sweet wine to offset the spice.
Another new menu feature is called nosh, Waltz explained. Appetizers can have a connotation of fried food, he said, and he wants to correct that misconception through the nosh menu.
Nosh is shareable food, like the Spanish custom of tapas. The selections can be ordered like traditional appetizers, or a group can forgo entrees and ask for several nosh items to share instead.
“People who come to the winery are interested in food,” Waltz said. “It’s a good fit for me because it’s not just the same old food every day.”
He intends to change the menu offerings from time to time, based on seasonal ingredients.
Produce is garden-fresh, including some hyper-localized from the winery’s own 30 acres of farmland. Apples are sourced from the Ocheda Orchard just a few miles down the road.
Waltz’s menu focuses on “showcasing the wine in the food,” meaning that many of the sauces have Round Lake wines in them.
“This is a different customer experience,” Ellenbecker said. “It’s a dining experience, but it’s a social place to be.”
The winery’s property offers lots of opportunities to make a meal into a rich experience. Inside is a cozy fireplace, and outside features lakefront seating and picturesque countryside views.
“It’s a place to come and learn about wine,” Ellenbecker said. “People have the opportunity to try things they wouldn’t normally try.”
From the menu, Ellenbecker recommends the filet mignon paired with Heron wine, made from petite pearl and marquette grapes.
Waltz dry-ages the steak with an “an old-school preservation method” involving a 30-day Himalayan sea salt rub, which dries out the meat, gives deep flavors and tenderizes it so effectively that a ribeye eats like a filet.
Waltz also loves the warmed walnut crusted brie, a nosh item he would pair with Temptation wine, a sweet apple wine often served with dessert.
However, for any dish, he added, there are several compatible wines.
“Any wine you drink, the food will elevate it, and vice versa,” he said.
Moore likes to order the Sather flatbread pizza with Gander wine, which recently won a Double Gold at the Finger Lakes Wine Competition in New York.
The Sather pizza is named for Ellenbecker’s wife’s grandfather, who originally purchased the land as a waterfowl station.
Today, the winery remains a family business. Ellenbecker’s wife, Jenny, and sons participate in various aspects of the business. Son Logan is the winemaker, and Mason dabbles in landscaping, marketing and even in the kitchen.
“What I find most exciting about having Brendan on board is being able to promote different events at the winery,” Moore said.
The winery will host several events this summer. This weekend’s seafood boil and Mother’s Day brunch are already sold out. Coming up, the community can look forward to the Cruis-In’ and Hog Roast June 28, the Summer Bash July 20 and the Harvest Festival and Grape Stomp Aug. 24.
Moore added that the winery is also available to book for weddings and other large gatherings.
“It’s great that we get to share this place with people,” Ellenbecker said.