September 9, 2014

Churches Turned Restaurants: The Answer to Your Historic Dining Prayers

  • By: Cassie Keener
Bellini Italian Restaurant

photo by: Bellini Italian Restaurant

The Bellini Italian Restaurant retains a reverent atmosphere that includes detailed woodwork and intricate stained glass windows.

In the Fall 2014 issue of Preservation, we feature a trio of churches-turned-restaurants that have always offered sanctuary, be it spiritual or gastronomic. Check out these other houses of worship around the country that now enjoy second lives as places to celebrate cuisine.

The Bellini Italian Restaurant
401 East Washington Ave.
Madison, WI 53703
$$ | Italian

If you’re looking for an infusion of history, a cozy atmosphere, and authentic Italian food, then look no further than the Bellini Italian Restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin.

Housed in a renovated 19th century church, patrons can dine in pew-like booths while admiring the detailed woodwork and intricate stained glass windows of the historic building. The vaulted ceilings paired with dim lighting make the Bellini Restaurant a perfect spot for a relaxed but romantic evening of genuine Italian and Sicilian cuisine.

Soups, sandwiches, pizza and pasta are just a few sample sections on the Bellini Restaurant menu. If you’re going for classic Italian fare, start with the garlic bread Florentine, toasty pieces of fresh garlic bread, baked with spinach and mozzarella cheese, and of course served with a side of marinara. For those with hearty appetites, order the Cruel Emperor pizza, a deep dish crust filled with crushed tomatoes, Italian sausage, green onions, garlic sauce, provolone, and mozzarella.

Inside the Mission

photo by: Mission Restaurant

The Mission Restaurant serves delicious Mexican fare at the former Syracuse Wesleyan Methodist Church, originally constructed in the 1840s.

The Mission Restaurant

304 East Onondaga St.
Syracuse, NY 13202
$ | Pan American

Serving Pan-American cuisine, the Mission Restaurant in Syracuse, New York, is a favorite among locals and tourists alike for its unique take on a Mexican restaurant in an old church.

Originally constructed in the 1840s, the building that houses the restaurant was formerly known as the Syracuse Wesleyan Methodist Church. Many members of the church were active abolitionists, and the church was an important 19th century way station on the Underground Railroad; there is still a tunnel in the basement of the building that served as a place of refuge for slaves seeking freedom.

The vibrant styling of the restaurant creates an atmosphere that’s as fresh as the food. The high ceilings, stained glass windows, and worn wood floors of this Latin eatery create a unique ambiance, transporting patrons to old world Mexico as soon as they step inside.

After starting with the traditional but delicious appetizer of chips and guacamole, diners can build their own burrito with selections ranging from beef to vegetarian and everything in between. Or try the Puerco, a grilled pork tenderloin in a coriander crust with peach-ginger-hoisin barbecue sauce, served with grilled sweet potatoes and kale chips. The Mission has a wide selection of wine and beer and though there’s no hard liquor served, patrons can still grasp the Mexican essence of the restaurant by ordering a margarita made with agave based wine.

Exterior of Chapel Grill

photo by: Chapel Grill

Stephen Fleischer, owner of the Chapel Grill, sought to retain the original character of the building during restoration.

The Chapel Grill

811 7th Ave. South
Naples, FL 34102
$$ | Steak & Seafood

Located in Old Downtown Naples, Florida, the Chapel Grill combines the history of the past with modern styling to create an elegant but relaxed dining experience.

Originally used as the First Baptist Church, the building that the Chapel Grill inhibits has a rich and diverse history. Constructed in the mid 20th century, the halls of this building echoed with the sounds of famous evangelist Billy Graham’s voice when it was used as a church. The historic building was then converted into medical offices for the Senior Friendship Health Center in 1975, and remained that way until they relocated in 2010, leaving the church up for sale.

Owner of the Chapel Grill, Stephen Fleischer saw the opportunity for reuse and purchased the church in June 2011. He set out to retain the original character of the building during restoration, even though it was being used for a different purpose. The original vaulted ceilings were left intact for those patrons who want to dine inside and absorb the history of the building, and the restaurant also has outdoor seating, a tavern, private dining and valet services.

The Chapel Grill specializes in fresh local seafood and signature high quality steaks. The plank roasted salmon is a favorite among casual dinners, but customers can also dine in the tavern for lighter fare food like the Saint Grilled Cheese, a collection of Saint Andre, manchego, and alpine swiss cheese on sourdough bread with garlic jam. No matter the type of cuisine chosen at the Chapel Grill, the experience is sure to be heavenly.

Cassie Keener is an Editorial Intern at the National Trust. She enjoys writing, spending time outdoors, and enthusing about movies and music.

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