Roswitha’s Schnitzelbank serves up German food every Friday and Saturday.
WEBB CITY – The tiny cafe is cozy, alive with chatter and the mouth-watering scent of authentic German eats. Frying schnitzel, crackling alongside German music, serenades; it’s one of many recipes that cafe owner Roswitha Hartline learned at the hand of her grandmother.
But while Hartline grew up in Germany, one doesn’t have to travel abroad to sample her cooking. Instead, her cafe draws fans to its tucked-away location near Webb City.
“Sometimes I say, ‘Did you lick your plates clean?” says Hartline of conversations with her customers. “And they say, ‘No, but we wanted to.’”
The start of the story
Hartline is shown with her grandmother (center) as a child. Known as “Oma,” it was she who taught Hartline to cook.
Hartline, the daughter of a German solider, was born in the midst of World War II. Due to familial circumstances, however, she was placed in an orphanage in France: It was something her paternal grandmother didn’t find acceptable once she learned of Hartline’s existence.
“My grandmother caught a train and went to Metz, France (and) went into the Catholic orphanage and took me home,” says Hartline. “My grandmother raised me, and I was a wild child.”
Hartline married an American serviceman and moved to Fort Hood, Texas, in the late 1950s. “I was 16 when I came over here and couldn’t speak English,” she says, a statement illustrated by an early encounter with her refrigerator. “I didn’t know what ‘defrost’ was, so I pushed the button,” she says. She soon found out — and gradually picked up the language as time passed.
A few years later, however, Hartline’s husband was stationed back in Germany. The family went, too, which gave them the chance to spend a considerable amount of time with Hartline’s grandmother.
But “Oma,” as she was known, wasn’t impressed with Hartline’s cooking skills. “The first time I ever cooked, I burned a chicken,” says Hartline. “She couldn’t eat when I cooked, so I gave (the job) to her. … I said, ‘OK, Oma. You cook.’”
She did — and in the process, Hartline learned how, too.
Moving back to the U.S.
But even after moving back to the U.S., Hartline didn’t plan to use her newly found cooking skills for profit. The family eventually ended up in Nevada, Mo., where she took classes at Cottey College to further her knowledge of English, and pursued one of her great loves: horses. “I wanted to be a cowgirl,” says Hartline.
She became certified as a horse trainer and manager, and began working with saddle horses and students. It was something she did for nearly 20 years, during which she moved to her current home near Webb City.
As her students grew up, however, she decided to add something else to her annual schedule: Oktoberfest, full of German food, music and fun. The event was so successful that she began selling food periodically out of a chuck wagon — and that popularity drove her to open her own restaurant.
In her 18-stall horse barn.
But most horses aren’t around these days: Only one, Strader, remains. However, the restaurant’s venue is one new diners occasionally need reassurance about. “And I say, ‘No, you don’t have to eat with horse manure,’ says Hartline. ‘We’re civilized.'”
Visiting the restaurant
Hartline instructs staff member Keisha Vermillion on making one of the restaurant’s salad dressings.
Despite the restaurant’s barn-sized quarters, the operation itself is quite small. A handful of people help Hartline serve tables and do light cooking duties, but most of all of it is made by Hartline herself. “They have learned the German way,” she says. “I don’t want to say I’m picky, but, you know, you don’t do nothing halfway.”
One of those people is Heather Dickerson, who spent a recent Saturday evening pan-frying schnitzel right before customers arrived. “She does the bigger stuff,” says Dickerson of Hartline. “I make the schnitzel and spaetzle, but she does everything else.”
Heather Dickerson prepares schnitzel while bratwursts fry. “Mine is not Johnsonsville,” says Hartline of her homemade offerings.
“Everything else” really is a little of everything: Offerings include Hungarian beef tips, bratwurst and a variety of schnitzels. “It’s a pork loin chop,” says Hartline of the schnitzel. “And then I bread it very light and pan fry it. I’m so against deep frying. It’s too much grease.”
Another option is rinder rouladen — beef braised in natural juices and a burgundy wine sauce — which is what Hartline lists as her favorite menu item. “It’s not that common anymore in Germany,” she says. “It’s just too much work. I think rouladen is just pretty ‘older.’ You know, things are over there ’new,’ too. They cook ‘American’ over there, too. But I still do it, and people do love it. Because of the sauce. The red wine that’s it it is not overpowering. It’s just a taste, but it’s not overpowering.”
A meal wouldn’t be complete without a sweet treat to wrap things up. On Hartline’s menu, that includes options such as peach and apple strudel, as well as an incredibly moist German chocolate layer cake — minus coconut, but spritzed with brandy.
Of course, diners may opt to drink alcohol instead of eating it. There’s a selection of wine and beer, the latter which is imported from Bavaria, a region in Germany.
When to go?
The restaurant, which is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings, sees the place packed within a few minutes of opening. Hartline greets most as they arrive, chatting with many as they sit at their tables. “And then they say, ‘Hey, Roswitha, can you do a German toast with us?’” says Hartline. “And then of course I have to teach them.”
Kids who visit are offered coloring sheets adorned with German children wearing lederhosen — traditional Bavarian dress — and an incentive to eat their meals. “I have children, you know, and they get kind of wiggly,” she says. “When that happens, “I say, ‘Hey, you guys: If you finish your plate you can feed my horse a peppermint.’”
Hartline still has one horse, Strader, who is often fed peppermints by children on their visits to the restaurant.
On a recent Saturday, some of those diners were Larry and Anne Henry, who came to eat from Springfield with their daughter, Sheri Davis, for the first time. “We lived there for years,” says Anne Henry of years spent in Europe. “We’re always on the lookout for a really good German restaurant, and that’s the reputation that this one has.”
Hartline, however, says it’s her customers who are the best. “I’m always so surprised because this food is what I’m used to,” she says of when people compliment her dishes. “So why should it be so great? But the people here — I have the best customers. I have the best help.”
Want to eat?
Roswitha’s Schnitzelbank (12167 State Hwy 43, Webb City; 417-642-5343) is open on Friday and Saturdays from 5 – 9 p.m. Reservations are recommended. The restaurant only accepts cash and checks.
Writer’s note: For several years, there was also a German restaurant in Springfield called Rowsitha’s Cafe. The owners of these establishments are different.