WORDS: Kara Chalmers
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
Château 13 Restaurant & Wine Bar, a hip, new European-style restaurant and wine bar in Bradenton, is owner Jenn Sayko’s baby, her second home, her long-held dream come true. She’s thrilled with the opportunity to share her love of Italian, Spanish, French, and Belgian food, wine, and beer with her customers. The restaurant means the world to her.
Also, it means a lot to Bradenton. Château 13, which opened its dramatic, metal, vineyard-inspired doors in early February, is a boon to downtown’s dining scene, offering locals and visitors, “a fun way to travel without leaving their hometown,” Sayko said.
It’s not just the food – expertly flavored and beautifully presented by Executive Chef Greg Harrison, who hails from New England but also has southern, creole roots that inspire his cuisine – but the dining culture that makes Château 13 stand out.
For starters, there’s Sayko herself – gregarious, passionate, and knowledgeable. A perfectionist who can recommend the perfect bottle of wine for any meal. Sayko said she “hires on personality” because she’s willing to teach her employees the rest.
“If you’re going to do something, do it right,” she said (more than once.)
Sayko’s attention to detail is apparent everywhere you look, from the obscure, aged goat cheese imported from Holland to the deep red leather banquettes custom-made in Italy. From her start at age 13 as a bus girl at an Anna Maria restaurant, and throughout her travels and her wine importing and restaurant managing career, each place Sayko’s worked – each place at which she’s dined – gave her ideas. “If it’s going to be mine,” Sayko said of the restaurant, “I have to believe in every tiny little detail.”
Continental culinary culture
Sayko owns Château 13 with Wim and Mieke Lippens, longtime members of the Bradenton hospitality industry. The couple, Belgium natives, have owned and run the Palmetto Riverside Bed & Breakfast for a decade. While Sayko’s job title at Château 13 is general manager (and, she adds, “wine girl”), she is the day-to-day force behind the restaurant’s operation.
Every day Château 13 is open (Tuesday through Saturday, from 5pm to 10 pm, no reservations), Sayko is there, alongside chef Greg and Kathryn Findley – the assistant manager, bartender, and “Spain aficionado.”
Each member of the Château 13 team provides an essential skill or talent, without which the restaurant wouldn’t measure up to Sayko’s high standards. What’s more, the group is like a little family. More often than not, after closing, they stay up too late laughing, sampling food and wine, and celebrating another great night.
As for customers, what does a great night at Château 13 entail? According to Sayko, the restaurant’s accommodating, and if you’re on a tight schedule, you’ll get in and out quickly. But she encourages diners to take the time to enjoy courses, and to be adventurous eaters. Her aim is to provide welcoming culinary hospitality – so prevalent in Europe, where “going out to eat” is about so much more than food.
“If people want a European-style dining experience, we love it,” Sayko said.
She explained that to do this, diners can use the menu – the specific layout of which was deliberately crafted by Sayko – as a guide. To start, there are “Bites,” Sayko’s name for what would be called tapas in Spain, cicchetti in Italy, or amuses in France.
There are 11 choices – warmed black and green olives with fennel seed and caper berries, for example, or house made Bloc de Foie Gras (duck liver pâté) with fig jam – and only three of them are larger than two bites. Since the prices range from $2.50 to $4, Sayko suggested this is an economical way to try something new.
In addition to Bites, the menu offers other small plates: appetizers; hand-cut Belgian “Frites” (fries) with house made aioli’s; Prince Edward Island Mussels, served one of five ways; and cheese and charcuterie. Château 13 signatures include the Brie Brûlée Bouchée with local honey and fresh berries and the Calabrian Chili Roasted Shrimp.
Of the salads, Sayko recommends the “iconic Bordeaux” Château Signature, which contains bloc de foie gras, cured duck breast, boiled egg, fig and shallot jams, artisanal greens, cherry tomato, walnuts, baguette crouton, and a fig balsamic vinaigrette.
For entrées, there’s the Carbonnade à la Flamande, a classic Belgian beef stew, and the vegetarian house-made Cavatelli Bolognese, made with wild mushrooms, and creamy house ricotta cheese (which can be excluded to make the dish vegan.) Sayko suggests the Louis XIII Burger, which features truffled mushrooms, bloc de foie gras, shallot jam, and gruyere cheese.
“It’s over the top,” Sayko said of the burger. “I would want customers to know this is a thing. This is going to happen to you.”
Another option for diners? Stick to Château 13’s Cheese and Charcuterie menu. It contains 15 options, some you can view on display in the restaurant’s pristine charcuterie cooler. Pick four, six, or, allow the chef to select eight signature offerings for you. For example, there’s the Finocchiona, a pork cheek and belly aged hard salami, and the Sweet Grass Dairy Tomme, a cows’ milk semisoft and creamy cheese, aged 90 days. And then there’s the wine.
Sharing the world of wine
“There’s not a single place you can stand where you don’t see wine,” Sayko said, gesturing around her. “And that’s on purpose.”
At Château 13, there’s a focus on wine that’s equal to that on the food since, according to Sayko, you can’t have one without the other. Sayko has an encyclopedic knowledge of, and a passion for, all kinds of wine, and it’s apparent in the wine list. But wine also influences the restaurant’s ambiance – described as “a mix of wine cave cozy and modern and chic.”
You feel wine’s presence everywhere: in the metal chandelier inspired by wooden wine barrel staves, in the impressive wall art (including the huge mural of Sayko’s favorite winery in Italy – Guidobono in Piedmont).
It even serves as storage: the host stand and cabinets were built using wooden Bordeaux wine boxes. Built-in wall shelves display Sayko’s favorite bottles (including Château 13’s private label champagne), acting as “a visual wine menu.”
Outside, adjacent to the sleek and contemporary restaurant, black and gray brick with large, steel-frame windows in the style of the original 1926 building, is a tiny plot of land, on which five muscadine saplings are growing – Sayko’s own mini vineyard.
As for the wine list of reds and whites, sparkling, rose, sweet, and dessert wines, Sayko approached it the same way she did everything in the restaurant – with care and deliberation. “There’s a story behind every single one,” she said.
Because she truly wants to teach people about the wine she loves, she categorized the list by grape, listing the wines in each category from lightest to heaviest, hoping that would make it easy, and less intimidating, for customers to choose.
“People are excited and starving to learn about wine,” Sayko said, “but very few know where to start or want to ask questions.”
Not to worry – Sayko said she’ll sit and talk with customers about wine for hours. Her job is her dream job.