If I was asked what my favorite American comfort food is, the answer would be country fried steak. There is something about a pounded piece of chicken or veal, crispy breaded, fried, and smothered in thick white peppered gravy that is incredibly yummy to me. As I mentioned in my post of 2014, the High Hill German immigrants of Texas adapted their homeland schnitzel into what we now know as the country fried steak. So then by extension, schnitzel is also my favorite comfort food.
Schnitzel has a wonderful history, coming out of Vienna, Austria. There are a huge variety of types, and many countries outside of the German speaking world have their versions of this dish. In writing my latest book, “Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati,” I wrote about a now gone Austrian-Hungarian restaurant called Lenhardt’s in Clifton, that served 12 different varieties of schnitzel. Nowadays you’re lucky to find a German restaurant that serves more than the standard weiner schnitzel. Even the Black Forest and Forest View Gardens German themed restaurants in town didn’t serve that many varieties of schnitzel.
But sadly, Lenhardt’s is now gone – a victim of progress and university expansion. The historic mansion that housed the restaurant was sold by the family, and demolished to build condos for University of Cincinnati students. The mansion was built by local beer baron Christian Moerlein for his daughter as a wedding anniversary gift, and was filled with Victorian character, including angel murals in the dining room, believed to be done by the same artist who designed the original Moerlein beer labels.
I remember Lenhardt’s very well in college. I used to meet friends in Christy’s Rathskeller below the restaurant, for ‘stammtisch’, to practice my very broken German, and have a few liters of Warsteiner. I also remember how gracious the second generation owner, Frau Windholz, was to my fundraising causes for a student group of which I was a member. She gladly donated gift certificates to the restaurant for a raffle we had every year. But even more than that, I remember how delicious their schnitzels were and how much a treat it was to eat there. I usually ordered the Jaegerschnitzel or the Holsteinschnitzel when I dined there.
The types of schnitzel that Lendhardt’s used to serve:
- Jaegerschnitzel – literally hunter schnitzel – topped in a burgundy or cream mushroom sauce
- Wiener schnitzel – Austrian – no sauce
- Zigeunerschitzel – gypsy schnitzel – served with a tomato based sauce with red peppersand mushrooms – think Hungarian
- Holsteinschnitzel – topped with a fried egg and anchovie
- Rahmschnitzel – heavy cream, black pepper, and white wine
- Kaiserschnitzel – literally, king’s schnitzel – over easy egg with lemon caper sauce
- Italianschnitzel – tomato sauce
- Paprickaschnitzel – like chicken paprikash
- Sailor schnitzel – a thin slice of ham, cheese, and light wine butter sauce
A new favorite restaurant of mine, Katharina’s Conditorei in Newport, Kentucky, has renewed my interest in schnitzel. Although Katherina’s only serves wiener and jaeger schnitzel – they do it well – pounded out flat and tender and breaded with a thick, crispy coating. It’s really a simple dish, but when freshly breaded and done well and paired with some great German sides, like their homemade creamy dill potato salad, it makes for an amazing dinner.
With the current popularity of fusion concepts, I’ve even seen variations like buffalo chicken schnitzel, and pretzel crusted weiner schnitzel. Even though German and Austrian cuisine is the least trendy food category now, I think that a schnitzel-only concept would do well. Offer a variety of different updated schnitzels with fries and other good sides like smashed sour cream potatoes, rotkraut, or cheesy spaetzle, and you’ve got a winner.