Not being a student of German and not certain exactly what a schnitzel is, I was a little apprehensive about eating a meal in a totally German restaurant. I had been told that the restaurant that has been open just about a year was small and not very inviting looking on the outside, but when we arrived, I was a bit dismayed. Knowing I needed to go inside, order the food, and eat a meal to write truthfully, I chided myself for my thinking and went inside. Boy, am I glad I did. Appearances can be deceiving, and I found that to be true once again.
Meeting owner Monica Herring would have been worth my drive. Hearing her story and eating the food she cooks put my visit way over the top. Herring arrived in America some 20 years ago after marrying what she calls “her own G.I. Joe.” For a while things were good and then they went bad (the face she makes to demonstrate what the accent hides gave one a more complete understanding). Realizing she had to make her own way in a foreign country, Herring resorted to what she does best — cooking. Making what income she could along the way, she set out to follow her American dream and cook full time for a living, giving folks in the area a true taste of German cooking.
“What people eat in most restaurants is not really German cooking,” she said evenly and without apology. “They may start out using a German recipe, but along the way, they change this or they change that, and you no longer have true, authentic German food cooked and served the way it is in Germany.” Herring prides herself on sticking to the basics, buying her own ingredients, and paying cash for the restaurant itself and the food she buys each week. “I don’t want to owe anyone anything. I wouldn’t enjoy what I do if I owed, owed, owed,” she said gesturing to make certain I was getting it all straight. “This little place is mine, and I will fix it up as I can, but I will pay cash as I go. No bills for this girl.”
After working for others for quite some time, Herring got the opportunity to buy the little grey-blue house at 920 S. Main Street in Vidor. Make certain you get the South Main Street right should you go, for that makes a big difference. Turn right off of I-10 coming out of Beaumont and travel down Highway 105 (also called North and then South Main Street) for a few miles. Once you cross the railroad tracks, the restaurant is about a mile on the right. And, believe me, our party had to look for it for a few minutes. There is only one small sign that says “Schnitzel” out front, but you won’t forget it once you eat in the small restaurant one time.
Herring is helped at Schnitzel by her sister Ursula, also from Germany, and at times she lets her own husband, David Pyatt, a local pipefitter, help out some, but mostly he simply enjoys the food, she said. The two sisters hail from Aschqffenburg, Germany, and they love living in America.
The first of my German education came when Herring taught me what true schnitzels are and more importantly, what they are not. A wiener schnitzel is often a breaded veal cutlet dipped in a combination of flour, egg and breadcrumbs. It is then fried in butter or oil to a golden brown. It is traditionally served with a lemon wedge, which you can use to drizzle fresh lemon juice over the schnitzel. Herring said if you find yourself in an authentic German restaurant and you don’t know what to order, stick with the wiener schnitzel so you won’t be disappointed. The wiener schnitzel is often made with veal, but Herring specializes in pork. “The preparation techniques are the same, but I think the pork is simply better,” she said. “A breaded pork cutlet is usually made with a thin, very thin loin cutlet, but the secret is in the breading and frying.”
Agreeing totally with Herring’s assessment were four guests who arrived while we were doing our interview. Joe Sasser, a customer who drives out to eat at least once every other week, was the host of the four-member party, and he was delighted to aid in our education. “No doubt about it,” said Sasser, “Monica serves the best German food you can get in these parts, and I know a lot about this subject.” Sasser had brought Roy and Rita Jacks, and their daughter, Sherry Davis, along for this treat. Rita was also from Germany and anxious to taste the food Sasser had described. She had met and married Roy, now retired from General Electric, while he was in her country in the service and has been cooking German recipes throughout their marriage.Winking, she said, “You just wait until our food arrives. I’ll let you know if it is authentic German food or not.” Davis agreed with her mom: “Oh, she’ll let you know all right. She has been cooking for us all our lives and we know a thing or two about schnitzels.” All four placed their orders as did we and waited while the kitchen hummed with activity.
The first nod of approval came from Rita Jacks when the salad arrived. It was actually almost three salads in one bowl. There were cucumbers, cole slaw, and a lettuce and tomato salad, but it was the homemade dressing that won the rave reviews. “This dressing did not come from any bought bottle,” said Jacks with authority. “This has been made by hand and likely today.” Herring confirmed that she was indeed correct.
Some of the party ordered the King Schnitzel served with white asparagus and cheese sauce while others ordered the special of the day, a beef dish served with two sides and that delicious salad. Several variations of the schnitzel are on the menu each day along with some American food choices for the non-believers. You can choose a traditional burger, patty melt, a Greek burger, chicken dishes and a wonderfully tasty catfish and fries meal. Everything that came out of the small kitchen while we were there looked tempting.
My husband ate every thing on his plate and asked questions until he was satisfied. He degreed the meal to be wonderful. I could have been satisfied with the two puffy potato dumplings I had with the daily special.
Sasser added that one of her all time specialties is her desserts, but by the time we had arrived around two in the afternoon for the interview, Herring had sold out of every dessert she had made for the day. Instead we were served perhaps the very best tasting soft pretzel I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Herring makes them in the kitchen of the restaurant each day and they remain soft when heated and offer a slight sweet taste that is difficult to describe. (My editor, who is bread junkie, would love these pretzels and I felt somewhat guilty not bringing him a sampling.)
All four members of Sasser’s party said the food was amazing and that they would return. “The drive from Silsbee is nothing to get this kind of real German food,” said Rita. “It is as good or better than I can cook in my own kitchen. This girl is good, very good.”
Herring simply smiled knowingly at the compliments coming her way. She says she works hard to keep it real and is pleased when people appreciate her effort. “I’m going to fix the place up as I can, but I will not owe anyone. I know a coat of paint and a few nicer things might help to draw a crowd, but the food is more important to me,” she said clearly. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., and Herring said that business is picking up as people hear about Schnitzel.
Herring does some catering, but says she does not have the time to expand much more just yet. You can call (409) 769-8323 for additional information, but don’t bet the farm that she will share those recipes. And the homemade dessert that Sasser bragged so on — well, Ted and I have to go back for that — and yes, we’ll eat another true German meal when we go.
Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.