Dining review: Get a taste of German tradition at Schnitzel Garten

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANJuly 5, 2013 

  • SCHNITZEL GARTEN

    Address: 1225 E. Winding Creek Drive, Eagle

    Phone: 629-8855

    Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday; (closed Monday and Tuesday)

    Menu price range: appetizers, soups, and salads $3-12; entrees $7 to $24

    Libation situation: imported beer and wine

    Kid friendly? Yes, but no kids menu

    Wheelchair accessible? Yes

    Opened: May 2013

At Schnitzel Garten, a new Bavarian-themed restaurant in Eagle, there is assertiveness and singularity of vision that is decidedly German. There is no attempt to lighten the classics or tailor the cuisine toward the neighborhood or the broader modern American audience. The assumption is you are there to eat and drink as the Germans do - or, more aptly, as they have for centuries.

The dining room is a shaft of space, slashed with light, with iron wheel sconces hanging from long chains. Seating is communal at black wood picnic tables. In the back is a dark bar, where bartenders in white shirts and black vests pour beer from a row of import taps, and also serve a surprisingly tasty beer-and-Pepsi concoction called a "Diesel." On some nights, you'll find an accordionist set up by the front door playing German beer-drinking music.

The appetizer list is relatively short. My wife and I tried the asparagus rolls ($8), three spears of asparagus twirled in high-quality black forest ham, dabbed with mayo and peppered with dill.

Of any of the appetizers, pretzels seem like the one to try at a German restaurant. On our first visit, the kitchen had sold out of the house-made Bavarian pretzels ($3 for one, $5 for two). On our next trip, we were first told yes, pretzels were available, then no, apologetically, they were out. And then, a few minutes later, they were making more. And then, no - there was one left, but it was a little hard. I was happy to try whatever they had, and it was a good pretzel: yeasty, chewy, with pebbles of salt, and served with sweet, grainy mustard. But that lack of connection between the front and back of the house would continue through each dining experience.

Entrees are divided into three categories: schnitzel, sausages and specialties.

The restaurant's namesake is a cutlet of meat, pounded thin, dredged in flour and seasonings, then fried. Here this comes as pork, chicken or veal (for an additional $3) in your choice of preparations. The Holsteiner schnitzel ($19/$22 for veal) is a wide, crispy filet, topped with two runny fried eggs, capers and an X of anchovies - surely some damage was done to the valves of my heart. I asked to substitute the warm potato salad as the side, and after making sure they hadn't sold out, our eager server happily gave the OK. The salad was a mound of crumbling potatoes seasoned heavily with dill; sauerkraut was $3 extra.

The sausages, or "wursts," are locally made, served with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut or French fries. The beef wurst is dense, almost gamey, where the bratwursts were fattier and, to my taste, delicious. I tried both of these prepared as the popular German street food "currywurst" (a deal at $7), sliced, pan-fried, and served with French fries and curry ketchup, which tasted aggressively of cinnamon and clove.

Among the specialties, we tried the tasty beef goulash ($14), a paprika-rich, tomatoey stew with shreds of beef simmered for as long as two days. Served with spaetzle, a kind of rustic fried pasta, this dish comes together in the same culinary universe as spaghetti Bolognese, the kind of thing you want for winter hibernation but not so much in July. This comes with a little creamy cucumber-dill salad. Our server couldn't tell us much about the preparation, but after checking, verified that the goulash was gluten-free - a question prompted by a statement on the menu that "most" dishes are made without gluten.

Less successful was the Kobe steak ($24), a 12-ounce slice of meat we could not immediately identify, blanketed with a Jager (hunter) sauce of mushrooms and cream. The meat was very tough, uncuttable with the regular table knife offered, and too chewy regardless. (We were told steak knives would arrive the next day.) Our server did not know what kind of steak she had served, and the kitchen could not give us the name of the cut of meat, either.

As with several of the other questions, the owner, Courtland Hugues, stepped in to answer. Hugues is from Bavaria, and was helpful in his explanations and sincere in apology for service issues and outages - on one night, this apology came in the form of a warm apple strudel, streaked with caramel, probably the best single item we tasted.

Hugues explained that the cut of steak was an "eye of the round" - which, for me, is best whole, roasted in a low oven and sliced thin; it's too tough as a steak thrown on a grill. He, too, was unhappy with the results and was working with the supplier.

Schnitzel Garten is unique in the Valley. Its success going forward may not be whether this is a niche that needs to be filled, but whether the business can address the challenges every restaurant must face, and quickly. Staff education will be an important next step. Balancing supply and demand to prevent outages is essential. And nothing should appear on the menu without the full confidence of ownership. If the food is great, the rest should fall neatly in line.

Email Alex Kiesig: scene@idahostatesman.com

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