Rhein River Inn–Buchanan, VA
I’m a sucker for German food. Point in case: the first restaurant G & I ever ate at (by ourselves–there was one other time but it was a double date of sorts, so I’m not counting that one) was the Schmankerl Stube in Hagerstown, MD, which was our dinner stop on the first leg of the Roanoke-Nova Scotia road trip (the Schmankerl Stube is also my favorite German restaurant thus far). We also drove out of our way on our beach vacation this summer to go to Wilmington’s German Cafe. G & I love our German food. Bring on the schnitzel.
Closer to us than Schmankerl Stube or Wilmington, though, is the Rhein River Inn in Buchanan, a 40 minute drive north on I-81 from Roanoke. This past month we decided to go to my favorite antique shop there and root around for treasures and get some schnitzel, but the experience was a mixed bag. Except for the cat. The cat was all good. Fantastically good. And that’s why I’m going to feature his cuteness on the post.
The Rhein River Inn is exactly that–an inn and not just a restaurant. But don’t let the possibility of honeymooners enjoying each other in a room above you while you eat your cabbage disturb you. It’s really quite pleasant–especially if you nab a seat outside, which is what we did. The interior, to my taste, is a little old and stuffy, reminiscent of mothballs and that great aunt who annoyed/creeped you out when you were little (lots of fancy, delicate tea cups and gilded mirrors, that sort of thing). Outside, though, you can enjoy the garden and the cat.
Yes, the cat. Let’s get acquainted now, shall we? Meet Ginger. I can’t remember the whole story (I learned it the time before), but Ginger apparently is an adopted little tomcat who lost his sight in in one eye in a fight, but he doesn’t let that keep him down.
He loves people so much that when you sit down and are served your Stiegl lemon beer (yup, lemon beer: part beer, part lemonade, served in a bottle and quite refreshing), Ginger will jump right up on the table and settle in. But he doesn’t get in your face–he acknowledges you and will happily mew if you poke him or talk to him, but mostly he’ll just lie there and survey the dinner as it progresses.
Which it will, shortly, to a salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and croutons. It’s a simple salad and there’s nothing really to comment on. I ordered it with the vidalia onion dressing because, hey, I’m from Georgia and I love my vidalia onions. I’m pretty sure it’s pre-made, but it tastes fine, albeit a little sweet, and at least the lettuce is romaine and mixed greens and not iceberg.
After gnoshing on a little salad, our entrees arrived. While the only dish I ever really want is jagerschnitzel, we were informed, upon asking for it, that they were out. Out. On a Saturday early in the evening. Well that’s a bummer. And since we decided to use our International Diner’s Club coupon for there (buy one, get one), we needed to order two dishes (when we usually just split an entree since the portions are so generous). In the end we decided upon the sausage plate and the sauerbraten.
The sausage plate was as expected–sausagey–and I have to admit that none of them really stood out to me. The restaurant website doesn’t clarify which was which and I didn’t take any notes, but while none of them were bad, none of them were anything to write home about, and the mustard didn’t really do it for me. While it packed a spicy punch, it lacked depth, and I really wished there were a more grainy, nuanced mustard to go with the sausage. We ordered the braised cabbage and baked apples as the sides for the plate, and the cabbage really stood out as the winner–slightly sour with a good crunch while still being thoroughly cooked, I enjoyed the serving and had a hard time not eating it all on-spot. The apples were also surprisingly good. They weren’t overly sweet, which was great, and my one quibble is with the kind of apple used. The texture was a little mushy and a harder baking apple might have worked better in its place.
The other entree was the sauerbraten. I was excited about it since I’ve never actually had it, but definitely read/heard a lot about how deliciously tender and juicy it can be. Our serving, unfortunately, was extremely dry and worked best when scooped up with sauerkraut and gravy. The flavors were well balanced and I could taste the hint of cloves and juniper mingling with other spices and the rich marinade, but that perfect taste made me wish even ore than it wasn’t overcooked/under-marinated (whichever the case). The sauerkraut and potato salad were nice sides as well–nothing special, but definitely good platemates for the sauerbraten.
(As you’ll notice, there’s no spaetzle anywhere on our plates. It’s really one of the bigger disappointments of the restaurant since spaetzle, in my opinion, is one of Germany’s gifts to the world. Our server told us that they used to make spaetzle but that no one would eat it, so they switched to egg noodles covered in mushroom gravy and everyone cleared their plates. Hopefully one day enough people will ask about it and they’ll offer it as a side/replacement for the egg noodles.)
After asking for our check and after boxing up our leftovers (enough for me to eat two lunches the next week at work), Ginger immediately hopped up and began the ever-so-arduous task of licking the plates. The cat is brilliant, really–he minded his own business and napped on the other side of the large table while we ate, but as soon as the styrofoam box lids were shut, he knew he could get his share of the cabbage and meat-laced sauces. Sometimes it pays to lead a hard life on the streets and then be adopted by the owners of a German restaurant.
With our check, however, came the souring moment of the evening. The food was what G & I expected–good but not great–but the experience of being able to sit outside and enjoy a good beer and talk with our table cat made the evening amazing. Though I’ve only eaten there one other time, I enjoyed this meal far more than the first, and for all the time’s that G’s visited, this was his favorite too. Upon paying for the meal, however, we were informed that they had decided to no longer accept International Dining Club coupons. Even though our expiration date was January 2012, they wouldn’t take it.
G & I ordered two entrees because of the Diner’s Club–we would have never ordered two entrees otherwise because of the portion (huge) and because, honestly, for the quality of the food, it’s a little pricey. The server offered to take $5 off per entree, but the coupon covered $18 worth of food, not $10, so the exchange wasn’t even close to what we were expecting (or what we paid for when we bought into the Dining Club). Even worse, the server added 20% gratuity to our check–something that’s an element of the Dining Club coupon, but that isn’t for the restaurant itself for a party of two. Not that we wouldn’t have tipped him well, but the gesture of automatically adding it to the tab was pretty low. We called the Dining Club and they cleared it up for us and apologized profusely, but the bill really ruined the evening and left a bitter taste in our mouth.
But not for Ginger, who, after cleaning our plates, stretched out and continued to nap. Because it was a gorgeous night, because he ate some cabbage, because he’s just a damn cool cat. And I’d raise a toast to that.
Will I eat at Rhein River Inn again? Probably. But not any time soon. The cost coupled with their not honoring the coupon they’re supposed to honor until the expiration date left me a little pissed off. I’d go back for the cat, though, any day, and maybe for another one of those lemon beers on a hot afternoon.
Rhein River Inn
19391 Main Street (Rt.11)
Buchanan, Virginia 24066