There are only two Michelin Star-chefs in Atlantic City. Most would probably guess the first: Gordon Ramsay. But few would be able to tell you the second.
That distinction belongs to Robert Wiedmaier, the acclaimed Washington, D.C., chef and entrepreneur who is the visionary behind Villain & Saint at Ocean Resort Casino.
Wiedmaier, who was knighted in Belgium for his culinary contributions there — particularly for brewing his own beer, Antigoon by Robert Wiedmaier — recently earned his first Michelin star for his D.C.-based Siren by RW. Siren is an amazing restaurant that follows the success of his other restaurants, most notably Mussel Bar, Brasserie Beck and Marcel’s, which ironically has not earned a Michelin star despite probably deserving it even more so than Siren.
You might know Villain & Saint under its previous name, Mussel Bar. And while there is another Villain & Saint in Bethesda, Md., this Villain & Saint is really a Mussel Bar in disguise. In fact, much of Villain & Saint’s menu features former menu items from when Mussel Bar existed inside Revel.
But the similarities don’t stop there. The restaurant is practically the same as Mussel Bar: the same location, the same, casual Belgian gastropub theme, the open kitchen, the wood-fired oven, Wiedmaier’s chopper hanging from the ceiling, the giant bar with 28 beers on tap and — most importantly — the same, great executive chef who helped Wiedmaier launch Mussel Bar in A.C.: Dean Dupuis.
Dupuis is one of the most imaginative, creative and best chefs in Atlantic City and was glad to return to Ocean. Dupuis is so talented that Wiedmaier couldn’t stand losing him when Revel closed. So he moved Dupuis around his various restaurants until Mussel Bar reopened at Ocean under the new moniker Villain & Saint.
“It’s great to be back,” Dupuis says. “I always loved it here. So when we reopened, we wanted to make sure it felt the same as Mussel Bar with the same quality food, but not totally focus on mussels. They’re great, but we have so much more to offer. So we are a true gastropub, offering delicious food done really well with the best ingredients. And, most importantly, it’s fun!”
Mussel Bar fans will be glad to know the mussels are still on the menu in four different styles: classic white wine ($21) with roasted garlic, parsley, cream and lemon; spicy Thai green curry ($23) with eggplant, cilantro, basil and crushed peanuts; Fra Diavalo ($23) with spicy brandy-flamed foraged mushrooms, espelette pepper, San Marzano butter and olive oil; and our favorite, Mediterranean ($23) with Merguez sausage, goat cheese, harissa aioli and smoky tomato broth.
“A lot of places do mussels as an appetizer in a thin, light broth,” Dupuis explains. “We use the best mussels — Blue Bay mussels (from Price Edward Island) ordered on spec from Robert — that are meaty and nice. And our mussels are like a meal. They are full flavored with hearty ingredients such as smoked tomatoes and peanuts and sausage … really bold flavors. We don’t sell as many as we used to because of the name change, but when people find them, they are excited. I think they are the best mussels you will find around here.”
Atlantic City Weekly named Mussel Bar’s burger the best burger in South Jersey, and that awesome burger is back at Villain & Saint. Dupuis’ creation – The Chef Burger ($21) – features a custom blend of tender wagyu beef, mozzarella smoked in house, a homemade BBQ jam to take the place of ketchup, arugula, a homemade “griddled squishy bun” and fries.
“It’s the same burger, and there’s a lot of effort that goes into it,” Dupuis says. “No cutting corners. We take Tony Boloney’s amazing mozzarella and smoke it in house. We blend the wagyu meat ourselves. We bake the roll. Everything is done with lots of care and the feedback is the same as before. It was our No. 1 seller at Mussel Bar, and it’s our No. 1 seller now. We sell them like crazy. People keep coming back for the burger … a lot.”
Aside from a raw bar offering East and West Coast oysters and Brigantine clams on the half shell, the rest of Villain & Saint’s menu is different from its previous incarnation, while retaining the playful, creative spirit that Dupuis and Wiedmaier are known for.
The clam chowder ($12) is not only made to order, but one of the best you will ever have with local clams, pancetta, root vegetables and garlic and dill “ranch” soup crackers to put it over the top. Dupuis turns French onion soup on its head with the Gruyere fondue ($11) with French onion flavors such as Madeira wine, stewed onions, smoked bacon, thyme, sea salt and toast. And the Wing Wars III-winning KFC — Korean Fried Chicken Wings ($12) feature twice-fried wings with sesame seeds and a miso/mustard honey glaze that had the Wing Wars judges declare them finger lickin’ good. You will too.
“The chowder is great because we actually make a thin clam broth ahead of time with pancetta, lots of onions, milk and more, so that background flavor is there,” Dupuis says. “Then we take that, strain it off and cook it to order with fresh clams and more pancetta and celery and other ingredients to double that flavor. It’s not as thick and gloppy like most New England chowders that you see – and I’m from New England. And I never thought we would sell as many wings as we do. It’s insane. It’s by far our No. 1-selling appetizer, and since we won at Wing Wars, we are selling even more. It’s crazy. I think they just hit all of the right notes for people: crispy, spicy, sweet, tender.”
For entrees, new standouts include the pan-roasted “chicken dumplings” ($23), herbed cheddar dumplings with bacon-braised cabbage, caramelized pearl onions and lemon chicken jus; pan-roasted Barnegat scallops ($32) with roasted cauliflower, cauliflower puree, crisp kale, “garlicky” Ritz cracker crumbs and lemon brown butter; Wild Gulf shrimp and grits ($24) with capicola, broccoli, garlic and gruyere and lemon stone-ground grits; and the grilled hangar steak ($32) from Creekstone Farms with grilled little gem lettuce, pecorino, foraged mushrooms and smoked garlic aioli.
“The chicken and dumplings dish feels like chicken and dumplings, but it’s a fresh chicken breast pan-roasted to order with that familiar gravy and the cheddar dumplings,” Dupuis says. “And when it comes to our seafood dishes, we are sourcing everything as good, if not better, than anyone in the city. The shrimp are domestic Gulf shrimp, not from China or Vietnam. The local scallops are the best I ever had anywhere. Even if I am using crawfish, I make sure they are from Louisiana.”
Villain & Saint is one of the best restaurants in the city. With creative, out-of-the-box creations from Dupuis and his team, an extraordinary beer list, live music and an overall cool vibe, it’s also one of the most unique dining experiences in town. And Wiedmaier’s Michelin star isn’t too shabby either.
“We are constantly reinventing our menus to keep things fun and exciting not just for our customers, but for us as chefs,” Dupuis says. “We want to keep creating a buzz here that is constant. Next week, we are adding a fried, gooey fritter with American and Cooper cheeses with Spanish Iberico ham that I know people are going to flip over. We have to keep evolving and keep having fun so that we pack this place not just in the summer, but year round. My goal is to keep doing more and more to get our name out there so Villain & Saint receives the recognition it deserves.”
The Bar Scene
Villain & Saint is one of the coolest hangouts in Ocean — and Atlantic City — thanks to its amazing beer list and cool bar scene.
There are plenty of specialty cocktails such as the Villain’s Mojito with Cruzan rum, lime juice, mint and homemade simple syrup, and 28 beers on tap, including Antigoon by Robert Wiedmaier, which is brewed specifically for the Villain & Saint visionary in Belgium.
“We have a lot of Belgian beer but not as much as we used to when we were Mussel Bar,” says Executive Chef Dean Dupuis. “So we have a lot of local, national and international beers. For locals, you will see Glasstown, Brotherton, Cape May and River Horse on the same beer list with legendary brews like Gulden Draak, Petris and Bavik.”
Make sure you check out Villain & Saint’s happy hour from 4 p.m. to close every day the restaurant is open except Saturday. The 7x7x7 menu is one of the best deals in town with a half dozen bites for $7 and a half dozen cocktails for $7 as well as select $7 beers.
Current food offerings include a half pot of white wine mussels, Cooper sharp cheese hushpuppies, twice-fried eggplant with a miso mustard honey glaze and the to-die-for warm cream cheese from the wood-burning oven with Creole mustard, pineapple pepper jelly and crisp toast.
“The menu changes all of the time, but the cream cheese dish is so popular I think people will get mad if I take it off,” Dupuis says. “It’s a dish that people make in the South when they go to a house party. A lady goes to a dinner party with her cream cheese hors d’oeuvre and then pours pepper jelly over it. Here, we make our own pepper jelly and elevate it a bit, but it’s funny how it has taken off here.”
There is also live music from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. every Friday and Saturday.