Posh amid the waterparks
Wisconsin Dells’ Del-Bar is a pocket of elegance.
There are those who love the Wisconsin Dells and those who already have enough T-shirts and fudge. I’m in the latter group, but sometimes I wish I liked the Dells more- because then I would have more occasions to visit the Del-Bar in Lake Delton, one of the best restaurants in the state.
I have always thought of the Del-Bar as the ultimate supper club, but it really doesn’t qualify, because it doesn’t have a salad bar or a relish tray. A real supper club must have one or the other. What the Del-Bar does offer is a strawberry, mango, and mixed greens salad with a light fruit vinaigrette. Or an avocado, tomato, and sweet onion salad, drizzled with lemon, olive oil and fresh herbs. Or, as I enjoyed the other night, a baby spinach salad with a perfect hot bacon dressing, garnished with tomato, radish and white onion. I guess we can do without the salad bar if we really have to.
This venerable restaurant was established in 1943 by Jimmy and Alice Wimmer, and is still running by the Wimmer family. It was designed by James Dresser, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Prairie School Style is evident throughout, from the low-slung roof lines and the overhanging eaves to the warm woodwork, Cherokee red walls, art-glass windows, wood-burning fireplaces and, throughout the multilevel interior, romantic indirect lighting. With starch white linen and candle-lit tables, the total effect is to wrap you in comfort and luxury from the moment you are seated.
The menu includes all the standard supper club dishes-steaks-steaks, fish and seafood, chicken, veal and duck. But the Del-Bar’s treatment of each goes far beyond supper club standard.
Notable among appetizers are a cold salmon plate, broiled sea scallops and the best shrimp cocktail you are likely to encounter anywhere. And on a recent visit, I availed myself of the oyster bar. Washington state kumamotos and Malpeque Bay (Prince Edward Island) oysters where available, but I went for the plump Delaware Bay representatives, which, served on a bed of ice, were beautifully cold, fresh and flavorful, an ideal complement to my Manhattan cocktail. My companion enjoyed her baked mushrooms stuffed with cheese and minced applewood ham, a combination that worked magic of its own.
The Del-Bar prides itself on steaks, as well it should. I have never had a steak here that was less than perfect. A filet mignon was for-tender, moist and richly flavored. The menu also offers a boneless or bone-in ribeye and a 20-ounce strip steak. A special of the night was a broiled, prime flat iron steak, served with bacon, blue cheese, frizzled leeks and mashed potatoes
Chicken dishes include Cordon Bleu, oven-roasted Amish chicken breast and chicken piccata. There also is a roasted Long Island duckling served with Wisconsin cranberry, wildrice stuffing and orange sauce.
The fish selections change daily, depending on what the fishmonger brings to the kitchen door. On this night, my companion was glad she ordered the roasted wild Alaskan halibut, served with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, snow peas and mashed potatoes. This fish was fresh, delicate, unadorned except for a little lemon butter, and totally delicious. As a bonus, it is on the Audubon Society’s “green” list of environmentally friendly fish selections, so you can eat it with a clear conscience.
Other fish and seafood dishes include pan-fried walleye, sashimi-grade ahi tuna served rare with a sesame soy vinaigrette, and steamed Alaskan king crab. The Del-Bar also does wonderful things with jumbo shrimp. The chef’s special, shrimp de Jonghe, is a little heavy for my taste, with all that butter, but I have enjoyed the tempura shrimp, which are perfectly and lightly battered, fried to a golden brown and served with a spirited cocktail sauce.
There is a steamed fresh vegetable platter and a vegetarian pasta primavera for those who eschew (instead of chew) meat, and-a feature I wish more restaurants would offer-side dishes of hot vegetables. The Del-Bar offers butternut squash with toasted pecans, cauliflower and broccoli with hollandaise, and steamed spinach, among others.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have room for dessert, but in the past I have raved about the restaurant’s Key lime pie and strawberry Schaum torte. Maybe next time.
I keep looking for a flaw in the Del-Bar, but to date have been unable to find one. I guess I’ll just have to keep coming back until I do.
800 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, South (Hwy 12),
Lake Delton, 608-253-1861
Sun.-Thurs. 4:30-9 pm, Fri. 4:30-9:30 pm, Sat. 4:30-10 pm. Dinners (with soup or salad) $19-$39. Parking, full bar, wheelchair accessible, smoking and nonsmoking sections, children’s menu, major credit cards.
Posted on 12/01/2011 at 12:00:00 AM