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Das Schnitzelhaus
** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$

Potential found at long-awaited German restaurant

I had long wondered why there were no German restaurants in this city, and I often lamented about how I wanted one to open.

So when Cornell Taubert, who grew up in Germany, opened Das Schnitzelhaus on West Main Street, I was eager to get my schnitzel on.

In a little house with a cute painted sign out front, the restaurant had the basics on its menu – a variety of schnitzels, of course, bratwurst, rouladen (stuffed beef rolls) and Black Forest cake.

The best way to get a taste of several was via the German Platter, which included roasted pork, bratwurst, schnitzel and sides of sauerkraut and spaetzle.

The pork was the star here. It was pretty simply roasted, but seasoned well and was fork-tender and juicy. It had a rustic, hearty flavor like something my German grandmother might have put on her table. The light brown gravy on it was also simple, but that’s not to say there is anything wrong with a good ’ol brown gravy.

And yes, given the name of the restaurant, the schnitzel was also fantastic. These breaded pork loins were moist and tender, and the breading was nicely seasoned. The breading was also thick enough to soak up some of that brown gravy that turned it just a little gummy or doughy, which I loved.

There were also versions with pepper sauce and mushroom gravy. The mushroom gravy was basically the brown gravy with a generous amount of big, sliced mushrooms added. The mushrooms were canned but OK. The pepper sauce was a bright red concoction with green peppers. It was too sweet for my liking, kind of like ketchup.

The biggest disappointments were the spaetzle and bratwurst.

The spaetzle was dumpling-style, not noodles, and these tiny blobs were soft and mushy from being boiled too long. The tasty light brown gravy didn’t cling to them well, but the combination of the two was nice.

It didn’t help that the spaetzle was poorly drained. During one visit, I tilted my plate and about three tablespoons of water pooled along the edge of my plate. Less time in the water, less water on them and maybe even a little browning in a skillet would have helped.

The bratwurst was OK, but it was not what I expected. Das Schnitzelhaus serves a heavily smoked version. It would not have been such a surprising downer had the menu stated this. The smoked brat was rather greasy and it just wasn’t as German. When I think traditional bratwurst, I think of a white sausage with finely ground meat inside the casing. These were basically OK smoked sausages.

Das Schnitzelhaus’ potato salad, which comes with many meals, also wasn’t like traditional German potato salad. It was cold, not warm. But it had a nice vinegar bite and it was fine.

The soups I tried were more than just fine, and both outshined the mediocre, chintzy house salads, which arrived in tiny dishes that most places use for applesauce or coleslaw.

The restaurant’s signature Hot Dog Soup sounded crazy, but was crazy good. Always available, it featured chopped-up hot dogs in a tomato broth flavored with what I think was a fair amount of paprika, onions, sauerkraut and pickles. The vinegar bite from the pickles really balanced the sweetness of the tomatoes and onions.

The daily featured garlic-onion soup also had a nice mix of flavors, these being sweet and salty. It was made with a bright yellow, salty chicken stock and had sliced onions and a lot of garlic – which gave it a kick – floating in it. A few breath mints were necessary after eating it, but I would definitely have it again.

I would also give the rouladen a try again even though I was not too impressed with it. This sliced beef was stuffed with onions, mustard and pickles and looked perfect. But the meat was overcooked, dry and kind of tough. But not so much that some gravy couldn’t help it and not so overcooked I wouldn’t give them another whirl. Had the meat been tender and moist, they would have been masterpieces.

The Black Forest Cake was a masterpiece.

Two layers of spongy chocolate cake were sandwiched around cherry pie filling and slathered with a mound of whipped cream, chocolate syrup and chocolate shavings with a cherry on top. It was heavenly. The other dessert option – vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries and whipped cream – was also a pretty darn good meal ender as the berries were, indeed, fresh and ripe and there were plenty of them.

A strudel would have been nice, but I shouldn’t be so greedy.

Das Schnitzelhaus’ staff and its atmosphere need some fine tuning. Although the little house could be cozy as a German restaurant and reminds you of grandma’s, it was pretty vacant with blank blue-painted walls and no German flair whatsoever. The only interesting piece was a cabinet that held glassware, but even it wasn’t that interesting.

The restaurant is also confined. Not only does this make conversing at a normal level impossible when it is busy, it also challenged the staff. Even though there are barely 10 tables downstairs and there were three servers tending to them, all of those servers were darting back and forth past my table and bumping into me or carrying trays over my head, which was distracting and dangerous. The staff also lacked basic instincts as during one visit my drinks arrived after the soups and salads and, during another, two people tried to take my beverage order and yet neither brought them until I asked again.

Also, be careful when trying to park. The driveway is not really designed for parking too many cars and although the restaurant has it set up for angle parking, many customers were confused and parked the wrong way. It took way too long and was way too difficult to negotiate, so try to find a space on Main Street if you can.

Given the issues Das Schnitzelhaus had outside the kitchen, it would be easy for me to write it off. But I love German food too much and there was enough potential to get me to give it another chance.

Plus, where else am I going to find hot dog soup?

Restaurant: Das Schnitzelhaus

Address: 1522 W. Main St.

Phone: 444-2946

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: German

Handicapped accessible: No

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Schnitzel ($10.50 with potato salad; $12.50 for sauces and spaetzle), rouladen ($13.50), bratwurst and potato salad ($7.50), German Platter ($14.50), soup ($3.50), black forest cake ($2.89), ice cream and strawberries ($3.49)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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