Some restaurants talk up a specialite de la maison, a signature dish. Schnitzel & Co. is the only one in town with a signature pretzel. Not just meaning highly-touted, or most-ordered, but actually part of its sign, its loops an edible copy of the cursive letter “z” in the restaurant’s logo.
The pretzel’s housemade pedigree makes it noticeably tastier than most of the soft pretzels I’ve met around town. Most have arrived in those restaurants in a cardboard box from a far-off factory, and taste more like the box than baked goods.
It was a highlight of a recent dinner at the Eggert Road restaurant and it’s a worthy example of the kind of cooking that keeps the family-style Swiss and German restaurant humming.
It’s also a deliberate connection to the restaurant’s roots in the Rizzo restaurant family. At Schnitzel & Co., a restaurant family shows that its roots are broader than they seemed.
Led by second-generation restaurateur, Michael Rizzo’s MPR Restaurants is a leading practitioner of the family restaurant genre in the Northtowns. Its portfolio has included Italian places that have ranged from fancy to family, and Schnitzel & Co., a Swiss-German concept drawn from the culinary heritage of his mother’s side of the family.
After success with a Transit Road Schnitzel & Co. location, an Italian-format Rizzo’s in Tonawanda switched from pasta to potatoes.
On a Thursday night, we fled from face-numbing temperatures into the hubbub of a crowded bar, to be greeted by a nice young man who didn’t work there but doggedly tried to recruit us into his impending trivia contest.
After we convinced him of our lack of interest, we waited for several minutes until an employee approached us to see if we wanted a table. In the nearly-empty dining room, it was quiet enough to talk.
The huge soft pretzel ($5.50) interrupted, frequently. Hanging off the sides of the plate like a champion fish fry, it satisfied four, and was especially addictive dunked in beer-cheese sauce. Resolutely cheddary, the sauce can be customized – might I say improved – with Weber’s horseradish from the proffered mustards. Every bite was a rosary bead counted in my own litany of thanks for not having gluten issues.
I was thankful also for the potato pancakes, of coarsely shredded spuds, fried to crispy brown edges. They’re available as a side with the German entrees or appetizer style, loaded ($7.50) with cheddar, bacon and sour cream. It’s not as much fun as potato skins. Instead try the much racier frikadellen ($8.50), tricked-out with a carpet of creamy gravy resonant with forest mushroom flavor and bite-size meatballs.
House-made dough specialties extend into cheese pierogi ($11 for five), also available in potato-bacon-cheddar. Well-browned pasta envelopes had plenty of not-too-sweet cheese and caramelized onions, a solid version of this Polish staple. A French-Canadian import, poutine ($6.50), was built on crispy hand-cut fries, with potent, salty gravy warm enough to melt the cheese curds.
Veal schnitzel looked good. It was big and bronzed enough, a thin cutlet crumbed and fried to an admirable crisp. But even topped with a pair of fried eggs ($19.50), it was under-seasoned, leaving an impression more of crumbs than meat. Perch schnitzel ($14.50), three pieces that came out crispy-crumbed as well, also seemed a bit of a blank slate, which I drew on with salt, pepper and mustard.
The chicken schnitzel made a better impression as part of a chicken-and-waffles ensemble ($13.50), thanks in part to a tangy apple chutney cooked down with hard cider.
Among sides, red cabbage, cut thick, more sweet than sour, had been braised until it kept some bite. Fingerling dumplings, tubes of pan-browned dough, were chewy as Twizzlers. The brussels sprouts were barely steamed, far from caramelized, a blandness the bacon and craisins couldn’t repair. Promised house-made breads and honey butter never arrived.
A couple of Buffalo favorites scored. The fish fry ($13.50), ordered battered, was excellent with fully crunchy beer batter around a generously sized fillet of flaky fish. Fresh apple lifted the cole slaw.
Buffalo mac and cheese ($13.50) delivered thin cheese sauce and cubes of chicken breast powered with a racy amount of Frank’s Red Hot or equivalent, putting off more sensitive palates while getting my attention. Missing: promised blue cheese crumbles.
No complaints about that sauerbraten ($17.50), though. This roots Germanic pickled pot roast was silky pleasure, its vinegary character leavening what can be too-heavy beef.
Service was slow at times, with dirty dishes lingering. The room was cold, with one server wearing a winter coat to bus tables.
Dessert included apple strudel ($5), filled with fresh fruit but brought down by gummy pastry. A Black Forest cheesecake ($6) was decent baked cheesecake with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and canned cherry pie filling.
Despite some stumbles, we got reasonably effective food for a reasonable price. Between its sauerbraten, frikadellen and the fish fry, Schnitzel & Co. speaks German, with a Buffalo accent.
Schnitzel & Co. – 7 plates (out of 10)
Location: 2763 Eggert Road, Tonawanda (834-4404, schnitzelandco.com)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: salads and small plates, $3.50 to $18; entrees, $11.50 to $19.50.
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Gluten-free options: sausages, salads, grilled chicken schnitzel.