After a tough overtime loss to Ohio State, the six Iowa fans in our group were pretty much wrung out during our weekend in Columbus. We made it back to the SUV, parked about a mile and a half away from Ohio Stadium, had a couple quick beers and waited for the traffic to die out. We had talked about going over to The Varsity Club for a couple beers, but by the time we got over there it was past 8:30 p.m. and we decided we needed to go get something to eat. One spot that we'd heard of that was on Man vs. Food on The Travel Channel was a place back over in the German Village area of Columbus, Schmidt's Sausage Haus. (To see that episode, click here.) We programmed the address into the GPS and took off.
In 1886, German immigrant J. Fred Schmidt opened a meat packing house in the heart of the German Village. Schmidt's meats and sausage became the staple of thousands of German people who had come over to America in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Schmidt's meat has been sold in grocery stores throughout Ohio for years and years. Fred Schmidt's son, George, took over the meat packing business in the 1920's and the business continued to thrive through The Great Depression. Schmidt would regularly have his men go to areas in Columbus and hand out free meat and sausage to the unemployed.
Fred Schmidt's grandson, George F. Schmidt, opened the restaurant in 1967, just around the corner from the family's meat packing plant. Schmidt hired a number of German ladies to work in the kitchen using old world German recipes that were handed down from generation to generation. The recipes for making Schmidt's sausages, bratwurst and other meats are the same that J. Fred Schmidt used when he opened the packing plant nearly 125 years ago. Today, Geoff, John and Andrew Schmidt - great grandson's of J. Fred, run the family's restaurant. And a fifth generation Schmidt, Kyle (Geoff's son), is the head griller at Schmidt's Sausage Haus. Now, to me, the family lineage through the place is pretty neat.
One of Schmidt's more famous sausages is the one they call the "Bahama Mama". It's a blend of beef and pork, and then ground jalapenos, mustard seed and other secret ingredients are added to make it possibly the most popular sausage they feature. While it's spicy, it doesn't burn your taste buds. I couldn't wait to try one.
We found the restaurant (see map) and even before 9 p.m. there was still an hour wait for a table. Schmidt's Sausage Haus doesn't take reservations, so the wait can be up to two hours we were told. We talked to a couple who went to school at Ohio State and they lived up in Michigan. When they'd come down to see a football game, which was a couple three times a year, they would always have dinner at Schmidt's. "I've been coming here for years," the man told us. "I graduated from Ohio State back in the early 70's and the food is as good today as it was when I was going to school years ago." That night, they had their two teen-aged children with them.
We ended up over at the small bar area as we waited for our table. They had a number of German-style beers on tap to choose from. One beer that caught my eye was a local beer from the Columbus Brewing Company. They had a pale ale and I tried that. It wasn't bad, but a little too sweet for my taste.
At the bar, we started up a conversation with two brothers from near Philadelphia, one of which had got his doctorate at Ohio State. They chatted us up about the times they've eaten at Schmidt's Sausage Haus over the years. The non-doctor brother said, "We don't have anything even close to this from where we're from. I mean, there are German restaurants and the like. But none of them are anything close to as good as this place is."
By the way, I just want to mention that each time we've gone out to Columbus, the people there have been so friendly and appreciative that we made the trip out to Ohio State. Oh, you still get the occasional jack-asses. But for the most part, the people have always been great to us. One guy told me a few years back that he enjoys coming out to Iowa when Ohio State plays in Iowa City. "By far, the best trips we have in the Big Ten is the one out to Iowa City," he said. "You people are always great to us."
It wasn't quite 45 minutes when we were called to get our table. In the main dining room, they had an accordion player and a drummer dressed up in traditional lederhosen playing German polka music. While it was fun to listen to, we were hoping that we didn't have to sit near them while they played. Thankfully, they put us in a far back room at a table for six. At the table next to us was the family of four from Michigan. It was well past nine p.m. and the huge burger that I'd had earlier at Thurman Cafe had worn off long before.
We were given menus, but the hallmark of Schmidt's Sausage Haus is their "Autobahn" buffet. The Autobahn allows patrons to try a little bit of everything from their sausages to their tantalizing sides such as red cabbage, homemade sauerkraut with pork bits, and green beans with spatzel. And it's all you can eat for, I think it was, about $12.95. But I was thinking of something more along the lines of traditional German food like a schnitzel or sauerbraten and they didn't have that on the buffet. But I did want to try one of the Bahama Mama's, too. I was completely torn as to what to do.
When our waitress came over, I said, "I want to try a Bahama Mama, but I'd also like to get sauerbraten or weiner schnitzel, something like that."
She said, "Oh, we have something called Fred's Special that isn't on the menu. We give you a Bahama Mama and then your choice of a traditional dinner with sides. The portion of the traditional dinner is smaller. You get all that for $12.50."
Almost simultaneously, Scott, Dave and I said, "Sold!" I ordered the weiner schnitzel, but I had a hard time deciding between that or the sauerbraten, German meatloaf, or their cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef, pork and rice. I got red cabbage and the sauerkraut for my sides. Cindy ordered up the sauerbraten and she got the red cabbage and green beans with spatzel. We could tell we were in for a memorable evening.
When our food showed up, I was pleasantly surprised with the portions they gave me on the plate. The schnitzel was good sized and I got a full sized Bahama Mama sausage. When I cut into the Bahama Mama, it had a wonderful "snap" to it. It was thick and juicy. And I wouldn't have called it all that spicy. Oh, it did have a little "bite back" after you swallowed it, but it wasn't anything that was overly spicy.
My weiner schnitzel was excellent, as well. The veal cutlet was pretty good sized and very tender. I could easily cut it with my fork. But what made it was Schmidt's mushroom gravy they put on top of the schnitzel. Oh, man! Was it great. I wanted to see if I could find the recipe for it. It was just outstanding.
Cindy offered me a bite of her sauerbraten in exchange for a bite of a Bahama Mama. She said, "Oh, my God, Will! That's fabulous! And I don't like sausage all that much!" And her sauerbraten was just scrumptious, as well. They used a ginger gravy on the sauerbraten that I liked almost as much as the mushroom gravy I had on my schnitzel.
After dinner, we were tempted by one of Schmidt Sausage Haus' signature items - their legendary cream puffs. The cream puffs are baked in house and weigh about a half pound. They're huge. Cindy and I decided we'd share one, but I was so stuffed from my meal that I knew that I wouldn't be able to eat maybe more than two bites. We'd seen the cream puffs earlier in the case, but you don't really know how big they are until they plop one down in front of you on a plate. We got the vanilla cream puff. I'm not big into cream puffs, and I have to say that I can't quite figure out what all the hoopla was about them. I found it to be somewhat bland and the puff was kind of chewy. I did have just a couple bites and I thought it was vastly overrated.
All in all, our meals with beer, tea and the cream puffs (times 3) came to just over $105 bucks. I found that to be overly reasonable. I paid for it on my credit card and the other guys just threw in cash for their part of the bill. I gave our waitress a $20 buck tip for the effort she gave us. She was very good.
I wouldn't mind heading back out to Columbus to try Schmidt's again at some point. It was a fun place. I was intrigued by their German meatloaf and I really liked the Bahama Mama. They ship Bahama Mama's from Columbus all over the United States. I may have to break down and get a box of them shipped to me.