Belgian-style mussels

Château 13's Belgian-style mussels.

Image: Chad Spencer

Château 13 was an immediate hit when it opened in downtown Bradenton in February 2019. General manager Jenn Sayko told me earlier this year that the restaurant had a wait every night it was open for the first seven months. That rising buzz was quieted in March, when the restaurant, owned by a Belgian couple named Wim and Mieke Lippens, was forced to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Château 13 is now coming back to life with a revamped approach. You can only get a seat inside if you have a reservation (outdoor spots are first come, first serve), and the dinner menu, which changes regularly, is a three-course prix fixe that costs $55, plus optional upgrades.

The current selection includes a mix of past favorites from the restaurant, as well as new creations. Sayko, who came up with the concept and pitched the Lippenses on opening the restaurant, said her goal is to offer diners a menu that is 75 percent familiar and 25 percent new.

When I dined there in January, I was knocked out by the offerings on the restaurant's “bites” menu. A “Caña De Cabra Brûlée” was made by torching both sides of a thick slice of Spanish goat’s milk cheese and dressing it with honey, a house-made fig jam and a handful of arugula leaves. It was toasted and crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Figs wrapped in prosciutto, meanwhile, were enlivened by a spicy tomato chutney. Because of the restaurant's new approach, those may or may not be available if you stop in these days.

One of the choices for your first course on the prix fixe menu is a trio of cheeses and charcuterie. The restaurant takes those very seriously. Behind glass in the back of the restaurant, you’ll spy a fire engine-red 1950s Berkel meat slicer that’s cranked by hand. Cured meat cognoscenti prefer hand-operated machines because they believe the heat given off by an electric slicer’s motor can melt the delicate fat of a piece of charcuterie. In January, the Château 13 staff was using the Berkel to shave off wafer-thin slices of duck prosciutto and finocchiona, an aged salami made with pork cheek and belly. Outstanding.

Don’t sleep on the mussels, which you might now see on the menu as an appetizer or a full entrée with fries. A one-off special made with cream, saffron, fennel, white wine and tarragon was rave-worthy. The addition of a side of hand-cut fries and aioli completed the package.

Other recent main course selections have included the restaurant's Louis XIII Burger, made with truffled mushrooms, foie gras and a shallot jam, and a gorgeous-looking filet mignon. If you haven't yet ventured to Château 13, the prix fixe represents an excellent way to get yourself acquainted with one of Bradenton's best restaurants.

Château 13 is located at 535 13th St. W., Bradenton, and is open 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. For more info, call (941) 226-0110 or visit the restaurant's website.

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