A European showcase
by Johnette Rodriguez
444 Thames St., Bristol, 254-1188
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Sat-Sun brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Major credit cards
Italian food is so dominant in Rhode Island you'd almost expect to come across
pesto-stuffed won tons or calamari burritos. Thus, it's particularly nice to
encounter other European cuisines, especially when they are as carefully
prepared as they are at Redlefsen's (emphasis on the second syllable, with a
nod to the Swedish heritage of the restaurant's founder).
Owners Walter and Sally Guertler have wandered the small towns of Europe,
enjoying meals in modest bistros and pubs, and they've designed a menu (with
chef David Reniere) that showcases some of their favorite finds. It also pays
homage to local seafood - clam chowder, baked scrod and baked scallops - and,
of course, to some of the state's official foods - calamari, ravioli and penne
puttanesca. Because Redlefsen's does an annual Oktoberfest (Wednesday
and Thursday evenings, beginning just after the fall equinox and extending for
six weeks), they have become known for their German dishes and German draft
But Redlefsen's menu, as well as its décor, hint at a broader scope.
The blue and white tiles around the open kitchen are reminiscent of Delft
china; the porcelain sign proclaims "smoking forbidden" in Swedish; a map of
the Bourgogne region (Burgundy) hangs on one wall; the lace
half-curtains on the front windows suggest Belgium; and the grape vines painted
on the large skylight trigger thoughts of Tuscany.
The 1932 building into which Redlefsen's moved in January '99 is a former
truck garage, once used by the Narragansett Brewery, renovated in '98 by the
Guertlers. The dining room is one-third larger than their former High Street
location, but with the same 48 seats. The new space also contains and a
comfortable lounge and bar.
And what a bar. Though more than 80 percent of what Redlefsen's serves comes
from their extensive and eclectic wine list, they also offer nine beers on tap
-- no bottled beer -- including three Germans, one Czech Pilsener, two English
ales, one Dutch, one Belgian, and one American, Otter Creek. The wine list is
equally impressive, with the Guertlers choosing from California, Chile, France,
Germany, or wherever else they discover a quality wine. The dozen regular menu
entrees each have two recommendations for wine (or, in the case of the wursts,
The friend who accompanied us for dinner grabbed the rare chance to have
sauerbraten, and she and I chose the pickled vegetable salad to go with our
meals. But as tasty as both items were, they've unfortunately retreated until
next year's Oktoberfest menu. The Germanic dishes that do hang around all year
are the wiener schnitzel and the grilled bauernwurst and bratwurst, with
sauerkraut. Other distinctly northern European ways with preparation and
presentation are the grilled rainbow trout with a mustard-dill sauce (enjoyed
on previous visits) and the pecan-encrusted pork tenderloins ($15.95), which
Bill picked for his entree. I decided on the roasted half-chicken ($12.95).
The tenderloin medallions were medium-thin and fork-tender, bringing
exclamations of joy from that side of the table. The maple cream sauce was a
perfect complement to the pecans, and how could anything with pecans not be a
hit? The mashed red bliss potatoes with garlic came in for their own share of
attention. The chicken was rotisserie-roasted, quite juicy and flavorful. It
had been basted with Redlefsen's house "steak sauce," a sweet and spicy blend
with a lot of pizzaz. Once again, the potatoes and peas were a great
Our appetizers were also primo. The butternut-and-apple soup ($3.95) was mild
and creamy, with a touch of scallions. The house-cured, grilled gravlax
($7.50) was the star of the evening. Gravlax is a Swedish specialty in
which fish is cured by being soaked for several days in a salt-sugar-dill
marinade. Often sliced thin for open-faced sandwiches, this was left as a
fillet, very lightly grilled on the edges and served with a sweet mustard
sauce. Bill proclaimed it "definitive."
The desserts at Redlefsen's are locally made, including the occasional torte
and the regular tiramisu. But the real crowd-pleaser is the daisy crepe
($5.25), which is filled with three scoops of French vanilla ice cream before
being drenched in house-made fudge sauce. Save room for it!
And make room in your life for Redlefsen's. You'll be glad you did.