By Sondra Katkin
Crispy, sweet veal schnitzel, succulent red cabbage and other tempting, authentic German food has been Wertheim’s specialty for over 22 years. Located in Main Strasse Village on a picturesque boulevard with buildings that reflect turn of the century New Orleans inspired architecture — graceful iron grillwork, balconies, porches and a park at the end of the block. A perfect place to celebrate “Maifest” (May 18 and 19). Stroll the area while window shopping the quaint stores including a magic shop next to the restaurant. Then sit on Wertheim’s awning covered porch and enjoy a wonderful German dining experience. If you decide to eat indoors, you will have a choice of several warm, inviting dining areas all with large windows brightening the interior. Recently, the chairs have been updated to give more of a bistro or casual feel. My hips approved of the roomy padded seats.
As a young man, Sal Wertheim (everyone calls him Sal) came up from Argentina to take advantage of the opportunities this country offered. He is the son of German Jews who immigrated to Argentina (one of only three countries accepting Jews at the time) to escape the Holocaust. Not only did he grow up eating the traditional dishes of his parents’ homeland, he worked in the restaurant industry as an area supervisor for Frisch’s restaurants for 21 years before opening his own place. He enjoys the party atmosphere of a restaurant and gets great pleasure from pleasing his customers. I could see his eyes light up when I was served my dinner. I began with the schnitzel a la Holstein which I shared with him. He liked it and so did I. It was companionable to taste and talk. The flavors of the nicely browned veal covered by a sunny side up egg are a pleasant mixture of the substantial and the soft. The tender meat was easy to cut and between the two of us, disappeared quickly.
Considered a mundane pleasure, the “lowly” sausage/hot dog is deliciously prepared at Wertheim’s. But perhaps those derogatory adjectives are incorrect. A famous French chef, Yannick Alleno, is now serving his “chien chaud,” a hot dog with the ambience of Paris in his upscale French restaurant. Furthermore, a favorite gustatory escape for Parisian chefs to unwind and talk is a restaurant that specializes in these mini logs of lusciousness. Wertheim’s special recipe for mustard heightens the “gourmet” experience with a formula so bold and savory, I found myself licking my spoon. Sal mentioned that that wasn’t unusual since his mustard is such a favorite with his customers. When I shared the beef sausages with my husband Steve, his mustard intake rivaled mine (marriage can be competitive). The generous amount of sauerkraut that accompanies the “dog” was enough for both of us fast forked, dexterous diners. I may lose my Cincinnati citizenship when I admit that I don’t know a mett from a bratt, but I do know I was knocked out by the knockwurst. I tasted it without the mustard to be sure I wouldn’t be swayed by its exceptional flavor. This fat, brown, smoky dog of delight was so good that I let Steve eat the other two, which he said he preferred. What a dear. They also have a special way with their sauerkraut. It’s tender, tangy and has a nice crunch with the right balance of tartness.
Sal referred to one of his cooks as Bubby. Naturally I expected a sweet Jewish Grandma to appear. Wrong — Bubby and his mother have been cooking for Sal for many years. Restaurants have a way of fostering families of unrelated people who are loyal and hardworking. Bubby brought me a sample of their sauerbraten. Usually this is sweet tasting in spite of its name. Not this time. The thin slices of marinated top round beef were fall-apart tender and quite tart — a more authentic flavor. The intense vinegar and pickling spice marinade will make your tongue pop. The accompanying potato pancakes were thick and crusty with just the right oniony flavor and a mild peppery finish. Sal explained that they are fried at the last minute to retain their fresh crust.
According to Sal, “If you don’t have quality, you have nothing. I’m passionate about the restaurant business. I’ve been in it for 42 years. Sometimes it’s more like fun than work.” This is the type of devotion most successful restaurant owners espouse. Jewell, his head server/dining room manager added, “He wants people to have a good time. He requires a lot from himself, putting in huge hours that people never see. The art is making it look simple, like magic.” Is it a coincidence that he’s located next to a magic shop? Diners’ reviews corroborate these comments. A visitor from Chicago noted, “The smells coming from this place were like a siren luring forlorn sailors.” Another guest was “hooked by the Huhner schnitzel, grilled chicken with a thick tomato pepper sauce and a touch of German flavor.”
In addition to the traditional German selections, including seven schnitzels, sauerkraut balls, Reuben rolls and goulash, there is a wide variety of American food. Strip steak, hamburgers, pastas, baked or blackened white fish, vegetarian selections, salads and homemade soups will offer the non traditional diner a plethora of choices. They also have authentic Kentucky desserts which have won “Best of Cincinnati.” Their Silk pie and Derby pie are made from the original recipes. They have homemade strudel that I sampled and after eating the wonderful wedge, wanted more. I enjoyed the flaky crust and baked apple, raisin, nut mixture — a big favorite of mine.
The bar features liquors, wines, Warsteiner—the best-selling German beer— on tap, along with light, dark, wheat and India pale ale. Wertheim’s features frequent specials and early bird dinners before 6 p.m. Sal says, “It’s the same dinner only cheaper.” There is a private party room and carry out is available. The restaurant also caters parties.
Wertheim’s is open seven days a week, Monday – Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
514 West 6th Street
Covington, KY 41011