It was a dark December night when we wheeled into the Wisconsin Dells and, frankly, I didn’t expect to see much activity.
The Dells, I always thought, was only busy in the summer month when your boats plied the Wisconsin River at half-hour intervals and the shrieks of kids at water parks filled the air.
I was in for a surprise. While I didn’t have to watch out for crowds on the streets, most of the hotel parking lots along the Wisconsin Dells Parkway were more than half-filled with cars. The same was true of the parking lot at my favorite Wisconsin Dells restaurant, the Del-Bar. Inside, the table we sat at was one of only a few vacant.
The winter may have gotten busier at the Dells, but the one thing has remained the same: The Del-Bar is still a top spot for dinner.
Not just a steakhouse
Up until recent years, the restaurant was known as Jimmy’s Del-Bar and was named for Jim Wimmer, who established the restaurant with his wife, Alice, in 1943.
The story of jim wimmer's acquisition of the bar, which was a log cabin at the time is recounted on a placard on the restaurant’s wall: Wimmer paid $500 for the bar in 1943 and sealed the deal with a handshake. The restaurant remains in the family: Jeff and Jane Wimmer, Jimmy’s son and daughter-in-law own it today.
In the 59 years since that handshake, the Del-Bar has pushed out in all directions and no longer resembles a log cabin. Architect James Dresser, who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright, has given the restaurant a classic Prairie Style look with horizontal lines, large expanses of windows and generous overhangs.
Inside, the restaurant exudes a quiet elegance. Dark woodwork frames expanses of terra-cotta-colored walls while intricate wooden light fixtures throw soft light onto the ceiling. Tables are covered with white clothes and a computer-controlled grand piano in the main dining room generates a pleasant mix of classic and contemporary music.
The sign outside the Del-Bar lists steak as a specialty, and judging from the flavorful, bacon-wrapped petite filet mignon we tasted as part of a special combination dinner ($28.90), it is a strong point. But it would be a big mistake to call the Del-Bar a simple steak house, as we learned from the other part of the combination-three large tempura shrimp.
A strong current of asian flovor those three delicious shrimp-perfectly battered and fried to a deep golden color-were so good (far better than I’ve had at several Japanese restaurants) that we decided to try a second entrée with an Asian flair.
Pan-Roasted Sea Bass ($25.50) was topped with a Thai-style pineapple-coconut curry sauce that accented its rich flavor with sweetness and spice. Indian basmati rice beside the fish was cooked with saffron, giving it an attractive reddish glow and enough flavor to stand up to the curry sauce. The third item on the plate, an All-American side of butternut squash, added a pleasant sweetness and a bright flash of color.
Tradition has a place, too
Two other entrees were more mainstream Wisconsin. Wiener Schnitzel a la Holstein ($25.50) delivered tow inch-thick veal cutlets rolled in crumbs, sautéed, then topped with the traditional fried egg and anchovy fillets. While the flavor was good, the fillets needed a little more tenderizing.
In contrast, Roast Duckling ($24.50) couldn’t have been better. Its meat lay moist beneath a crunchy skin that glistened with lively sauce combining the flavors of fresh lemon and oranges. Sun-dried cranberries gave its wild rice stuffing attractive bursts of tartness. I could have done without the quartered onion that topped the stuffing, though. Its flavor was so strong that we left most of it uneaten.
Posted on 12/01/2011 at 12:00:00 AM