Since the name of this blog is named Road Tips, one of the purposes of the blog is to find and report on unique restaurants and places that are sometimes hidden or not well-known. We found one of those places on a drive up the Mississippi River to look at fall foliage - Hillside Stables Restaurant and Inn outside of Sabula, IA. (see map)
Actually, we sort of knew about the restaurant as we had passed it on a couple of occasions in the past as we traveled along the Great River Road. This particular Sunday, we had driven up the Illinois side of the river to look at the changing colors. But looking back across the river to Iowa, we saw much more of a color splash on that side of the river. We decided to cross back over just north of Savanna, IL and head toward Sabula and south. But Cindy was hungry and I got out the GPS to see if there was any suggestions for food in the area. We could have eaten at the new location of Manny's Pizza in Savanna, but we weren't really up for that. I saw Hillside Stables Restaurant and Inn pop up and I wondered if it was that little place just off the side of Highway 67 south of Sabula. When we pulled up to the restaurant about 10 minutes later, it was exactly the restaurant that I thought it was.
Hillside Stables Restaurant has been around for over 12 years and was built and owned by Volker and Carol Nass. Volker Nass was a retired pilot from the German Air Force and he met his wife, Carol, who was a former air traffic controller. The two retired to Eastern Iowa and in the mid-90's built a house tucked back in a hillside off the highway. They built the Hillside Stables in 1998 as they had a love for horses, and for friends to board their horses. Their friends were coming over on a regular basis to have Volker's wonderful German food and to just hang out, so the Nass' decided to build a restaurant. In 2000, Hillside Stables Restaurant opened with a little 45 seat building, complete with a bar area.
A few years later, thanks to the business they were doing, the Nass' expanded the restaurant by putting in a room in the back that effectively doubled their capacity (pictured right). They also added a little "Bier Garten" off to the side of the original building.
In March of this year, the Nass' sold the house, stables and restaurant to Angela Gianetti-Snyder, a Moline, IL native. Gianetti-Snyder had just gone through the tragedy of losing her husband, Staff Sgt. Scott Sndyer, to cancer in the summer of 2011. Wanting to start her life over, she bought the property from the Nass' and moved from the Quad Cities up to rural Sabula to run the stables, restaurant and inn.
Actually, there isn't too much of an "inn" at Hillside Stables. There are two separate apartments - one behind the restaurant, the other over at the stables - that feature two bedrooms, a living area, full kitchen, laundry facilities, satellite television and other amenities. But we were told they rent for $89 a night and would be a nice little getaway for a night or two.
We pulled into Hillside Stables Restaurant around a quarter to two that Sunday afternoon. (Sunday is the only day they serve during the day. Hillside Stables is closed on Monday's, open 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday thru Thursday, and 4:30 to 9:00 on Friday and Saturday evenings.) It was well past the noon lunch rush they normally get when the church crowds show up. Only five people were in the place when we walked in, occupying two tables. We were greeted by the owner, Angela, and shown to a little alcove that featured antique-style tables and chairs. She handed us a couple menus and we took a look to see what they had to offer. I was really thinking of just getting a burger or a sandwich. That is, until I got to looking at the menu.
They had a number of German specialties on the menu including schnitzel dishes, sauerbraten (the Sunday special), and sausage dishes. They also had a number of steaks on the menu, as well as pork, chicken and a couple of seafood items. Cindy said, "I wonder what they're known for here."
I said, "Well, from the looks of the menu, they're known for their German food and steaks."
When Angela came back to take our order, Cindy asked, "What are you known for here?"
Angela kind of stammered and said, "Well, our German food and steaks primarily."
I kind of gave Cindy a smirking look and she looked back and me and said, "No, what I was getting at, is what are your signature dishes?"
Angela said, "Well, any of our schnitzel dishes are good. And we have the sauerbraten today. But, if you're looking for steaks, the rib eye is sort of our signature steak." She looked quizzically at Cindy and asked, "Is that what you were getting at?"
Cindy sort of shook her head and she said, "Yeah, I'm sorry. I just thought there was some item on the menu that you were known for. Sometimes little places like this are known for one thing."
Angela said, "Well, we're definitely known for our German food."
Angela asked us if we had anything to drink. After Cindy's somewhat convoluted discussion with Angela, she decided she needed a bloody mary. "I think I drank too much last night," she said recounting the evening before when we had gone out with friends for drinks and Mexican food. "I think I need a bloody mary."
Hillside Stables had two German beers on tap - Spaten Lager and a Hacker Pschorr weisse (wheat) beer. I got a mug of the Spaten. After she brought the drinks out, I had a sip of Cindy's bloody mary. It was very good. I said, "I'm gonna get me one of those!"
For lunch, I was torn between the jagerschnitzel - two breaded pork cutlets covered in a mushroom gravy sauce; or the sauerbraten - tender shredded roast beef with a ginger cream sauce. Cindy was torn between the weinerschnitzel - two breaded pork cutlets served with lemon wedges, and the sauerbraten. When Angela came back to take our order, Cindy told me to go first. I insisted she go first. She ordered the weinerschnitzel and I got the jagerschnitzel. (I was hoping she'd get the sauerbraten so I could have a taste of it. She was hoping I'd do the same thing.) We got our choice of potatoes and they had spaetzle on the menu. We both got spaetzle. The vegetable of the day was green beans, but I wasn't too enamored with. I asked Angela if I could get a side of the red cabbage. She asked, "Do you want it instead of the green beans?" Sure!
Lastly, we had our choice of salad, soup, cottage cheese and a couple of other things as a starter. If Hillside Stables Restaurant is famous for anything, it's their homemade mustard garlic dressing that they sell to the public by the jar. People not only use it as a salad dressing, they order sides of it to dip food and bread into. Cindy was intrigued by the dressing so she ordered a salad with that. I wasn't as adventuresome and I got a bowl of cottage cheese.
Oh, and I ordered a bloody mary for myself. I said, "I had a taste of hers and it's good."
Angela said, "I'll have the lady who made her drink come out and make yours. (She was in the back helping in the kitchen.) If you say it's good, I don't want to screw it up!"
Here's Cindy's salad with the garlic mustard dressing. While it wasn't a big bowl of greens, it was enough to get the meal going. Cindy tried the dressing and she sort of perked up and said, "Yeah, it's good. Not exactly what I expected, but good."
She gave me a bite of the salad and while it did have a little bit of a vinegary mustard taste, the garlic wasn't overwhelming. "I'm used to garlic dressing as being a little more powerful than this," Cindy said. "I think the mustard cuts into the garlic taste." Still, she was happy and wanted to get a jar of it before we left. (We forgot to get one.)
Quite actually, the homemade buns that Hillside Stables Restaurant had were superb. They were sort of a rye/dill mixture, but there were a couple other flavors that were prevalent that we couldn't quite figure out. I was going to ask Angela what else was in the buns, but completely forgot because we ate them so quickly.
Our meals came out after about 20 minutes and I'll have to say that they certainly didn't skimp on the portions. Cindy's weinerschnitzel cutlets were thin, but still pretty big. A large bowl of spaetzle was accompanied with a small container of an onion/garlic gravy.
My schnitzel was tender and easy to cut. The light breading on the outside gave it a good taste, but the mushroom gravy was just superb with the pork cutlets. The spaetzle had a great chewy consistency and was equally outstanding. But the red cabbage was the winner. Although it was a small portion, the red cabbage was some of the best I've had anywhere. Cindy tried some and she said, "Oh, my God. That IS great!"
Cindy was devouring her weinerschnitzel. She said, "This is wonderful." She then reminded me of a meal that we had on a vacation up to Canada a number of years ago, a little resort on Lake Superior with an Austrian restaurant called the Salzburger Hof. We found the place one afternoon and even though they weren't open for lunch, the owner still made us weinerschnitzel. Cindy said, "This place, this meal reminds me of that place." We had promised the owner, Ann Elsigan, that we'd be back at some point, but we haven't. "That's where we need to go for vacation next summer," Cindy exclaimed.
We were both having trouble finishing our meals. I ate the last bite of the last pork cutlet and said, "That's it! I'm finished!" The next thing I knew, I was mindlessly picking at what was left of the spaetzle with the mushroom gravy sauce and at the red cabbage.
Cindy was doing the same thing. "This is so good, I can't quit eating," she said in a guilty voice. We both figured that we wouldn't be eating dinner that night. (And we didn't.) We were stuffed.
After Angela tried to entice us with dessert - on which we quickly passed - we got to talking about what brought her up to Sabula. "After my husband passed away, I needed to do something else," she explained. "I left a home in Moline with a white picket fence and decided to come up here and do this." When we asked if it was working out for her, she said, "Oh, yes, Absolutely. This is actually better than I anticipated."
She said that through the week the restaurant is pretty slow. "We don't get people that get out and drive to restaurants like they used to years ago," she explained. "But our weekends are pretty big. Last night (a Saturday night) we were packed in here from the time we opened to the time we served our last meal."
The Hillside Stables Restaurant and Inn is only an hour drive north of the Quad Cities, and Cindy and I both thought that when we get the hankering for German food - GOOD German food, we now have an alternative to driving an hour and a half to the Amana Colonies. The food was just excellent, the restaurant was cozy, quaint and charming, and Angela made us feel like we were eating at home with friends and family. Hillside Stables Restaurant was a great find.