German eatery serves up schnitzel, sauerkraut and strudel in southwest Missouri

Monday, September 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 3:26 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 14, 2009

WEBB CITY — Her German accent still thick despite her years living in the United States, Rose Hartline said it's easy for people to misunderstand her when she tells them her name.

"It's like the flower, with the thorn," she said. "In my next life I will come back as a Betty Lou and then they'll understand it."

Luckily, her cooking at her restaurant Roswitha's Schnitzelbank, located at 12189 State Hwy. 43, speaks for itself.

Loaded with traditional German offerings, from schnitzels to strudels, Hartline's menu springs from her memories of growing up in a culinary-inclined family.

Hartline grew up in the town of Bad-Kreuznach in Germany.

Her father was a pastry chef, and her aunt studied cooking in France. But everyone in the family learned about cooking from Oma, Hartline's grandmother."I cannot remember ever seeing measuring tools in her kitchen," Hartline said.

Her aunt purchased the historic home once owned by Dr. Johann Faust, who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge.

"She turned it into a restaurant on the bottom floor, banquet room on the second floor and (in the) private quarters and the third floor had quarters for the workers.

"My grandmother and I lived with the working people on the third floor. I washed dishes and peeled potatoes. You couldn't come to my aunt's restaurant and not do something. The first thing you'd hear was, 'Pick up the wash cloth. Go wash dishes. Go pick up the towels and dry the dishes.'"

The Historic Dr. Faust Haus restaurant was open for many years until Hartline's aunt decided to retire.

Hartline moved to southwest Missouri about 40 years ago after she married an American serviceman.

"He served in Vietnam and the Korean War," she said. "Then he retired and went fishing in Florida, and I stayed here to train horses."

Twenty years ago, she began offering an annual Oktoberfest celebration on her property, cooking bratwurst, sauerkraut and German potato salad.

The event went over so well that she was soon asked if she could serve food at other times as well.

"So I went out and bought a little chuckwagon and put it on the front porch of my house trailer out there. In 100-and-some degrees, I was out there serving brats and sauerkraut," Hartline said. "People came and ate. They didn't care how hot it was.

"Pretty soon, someone said, 'Rose, don't you think you ought to do something better than a chuckwagon?'"

She transformed what was once the hay shed of her barn into the small restaurant, which is just big enough for a kitchen and seating for 24.

She also converted an area of the barn into a party room, which also offers extra seating when things get busy.

Everything on the menu at Roswitha's is made strictly from memory.

"People have asked me to make a cookbook, but that means I would have to learn all the measurements," she said.

The secret to a good schnitzel, she said, is to only use the best cuts of meat.

"A schnitzel is a pork sirloin. It's the best part," she said. "We spice it and turn it in flour and egg and then it is pan-fried. I don't do any deep-fat frying. I use the best oil to fry with. And my salads are made strictly with olive oil. Good oil, good ingredients, good meat. If you buy cheap meat, that's what you're going to have: cheap meat."

One of the most popular dishes is a jager schnitzel, which is topped with fresh mushrooms and a white wine sauce.

While the menu is almost completely traditional, Hartline isn't above a little experimentation now and then. One of her latest additions to her offerings came from trying something new.

"I call it a schnitzel cordon bleu. It's a double schnitzel stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese," Hartline said. "I was trying it and, oh my gosh, did that go over."

Roswitha's is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings, but Hartline said she will open any other night to serve groups of 15 or more. She said retirement isn't in her future any time soon.

Her 20th annual Oktorberfest celebration will be held on Oct. 10. Besides the restaurant, she still offers horsemanship lessons.

"I'm going to work for as long as I can," Hartline said. "People who retire early get bored."

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