I’ve dined in some unusual restaurant settings – basements, former brothels, a building with goats grazing on the roof – but a former church is, I think, a first. It’s probably the reason Delafield’s Belfrē Kitchen – which does in fact have a belfry, or bell tower – has an air of calm that overrides the typical restaurant noise. You feel looked-after here.
The building has worn a number of hats since it was built in 1868, including a theater and a gift/antiques store called The Steeple (a name that stuck long after the shop closed). Amy Quinn, a California expat who has planted roots in Delafield, originally thought the then-vacant building could be the home base for her food truck. But she soon changed her mind. She put in a kitchen and a marble-topped cocktail bar, gave it a modern-quirky sensibility (notice the key motif) and hired a kitchen staff who make accessible, delicious, elevated American-style cuisine – Quinn calls it “health-forward.” Reinvention isn’t the goal. Satisfaction is. And there’s a lot of the latter here.
One of the best things I’ve eaten at Belfrē is the first item on the dinner menu – a bowl of roasted cauliflower ($14). Herbed compound butter, grated Parm and toasted breadcrumbs ratchet up the flavor intensity, plus you have the option to add thick-cut Nueske’s bacon ($4 extra). Do it! The smoky cubes of pork fat turn this vegetable dish into a decadent party. On the other end of the spectrum is the menu’s sole disappointment – a couple of wet, too-fragile crab cakes topped with apple-cabbage slaw and cilantro aioli ($18).
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Things are more consistent in main course land, starting with a rich, silky al dente house-made tagliatelle blanketed with braised short ribs and meaty oyster mushrooms ($30). Chicken Milanese – twin cutlets herb crumb-crusted and pan-fried – is tender and just unctuous enough, under a nest of arugula, dried cherries and red onion tossed in a maple mustard vinaigrette ($26). A lighter – and perhaps more health-forward choice – the Japanese rice bowl is a verdant garden of edamame, bok choy, root vegetables, shiitake mushrooms and jasmine rice in a citrusy ponzu dressing ($22). It’s tasty on its own or with a nicely crusted piece of seared salmon ($8 extra).
A final pitch for dessert – they have at least two good ones in the fudgy dark chocolate sea salt brownie, which is akin to flourless chocolate cake ($12), and the custard-like key lime tart dolloped with mascarpone cream ($12). And another reason to opt into dessert: There’s something impish about eating sinful desserts in a former house of worship. But you won’t feel a speck of guilt.
606 Genesee St., Delafield, 262-303-5066
Hours: L: Wed-Fri 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; D: Wed-Fri 4:30-8 p.m., Sat 4:30-9 p.m.; Brunch: Sat-Sun 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Prices: Dinner entrées $18-$45
Service: Attentive, welcoming, knowledgeable