Maria and Klaus Nowak immigrated to the United States from Germany in 2008, bringing with them 15 years of restaurant experience. The Nowaks opened Mary's German Restaurant in Southaven, and it didn't take long for them to outgrow the space.
"It was smaller, and the old store was behind a gas station. Nobody could really see the sign," Maria says. "And our customers are from Germantown and Collierville, so we were always looking for a nice space here in Collierville."
About four months ago, they found that space. Now Mary's is located near the intersection of Poplar and Houston Levee. With a larger dining room and kitchen, they're even looking to hire more waitstaff. Everything is still made from scratch — particularly because many authentic German ingredients are hard to come by — and they still serve traditional German food, from schnitzel to bratwurst. Schnitzel, of course, is breaded, pan-fried veal (or a pork loin in some cases), and Mary's serves it a variety of ways: Paprikaschnitzel, with creamy paprika gravy; Jägerschnitzel (or Hunter's Schnitzel), with mushroom gravy; Zwiebelschnitzel, with fried onions; Holsteiner Schnitzel, with two pan-fried eggs.
If the menu seems schnitzel-heavy, it is. But as Klaus points out, schnitzel is a national favorite in Germany — in fact, there are restaurants where you can only get schnitzel. "Actually, our menu is big," Maria says. "We have a lot of sides, like sauerkraut and brats." Klaus chimes in: "No one makes sauerkraut or red cabbage in Germany in a restaurant. Or spätzle. That's only for home cooking. It's all special stuff."
Side items include German potato salad (made according to custom with no mayonnaise and with a light dressing of vinegar, pickles, and bacon), pan-fried potatoes, red cabbage, and sauerkraut. Spätzle, a soft, egg-based pasta, is served alongside the German gulasch, a rich beef stew, and the Rheinischer Sauerbraten, a dish of marinated beef in a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce. Dessert includes a homemade Black Forest cake.
Maria describes the meals here as what Germans might eat for a Sunday family dinner. "We cook like in Germany. Everything homemade. We cut our meat and bake the roast — like cooking at home but for 100 people a day."
Mary's has various imported German beers on tap: Spaten, Spaten Oktoberfest, Paulaner Hefeweizen, and Warsteiner, although Maria notes that Collierville residents don't guzzle as much beer as did the soccer players who patronized her restaurant back in Germany. In their short time in America, the Nowaks have also gotten accustomed to American ways of dining out.
At first, the weekend restaurant rush took them totally by surprise. "People wait an hour to sit down and eat," Maria says with a look of astonishment. She adds that Germans typically only eat out once or twice a month, and they would be just as likely to venture out on a Sunday afternoon as a Friday night. Now they plan for the busy weekend in advance.
The dining room is painted light blue and white, colors that signify Bavaria. Beer steins line the counter, and cuckoo clocks, wreaths of edelweiss, and pictures of Germany (and its incredible castles) adorn the walls. German movies play on the big-screen television, and German music plays on the stereo system.
Mary's is open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and dinner 5 to 9 or 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Entrées range from $9 to $19, and the menu includes some kid-friendly American options.
Mary's German Restaurant,
2140 W. Poplar, Collierville (853-6527)
When he opened Sweet Grass, chef Ryan Trimm quickly made a name for himself around Memphis. Now he has been nominated to be Food & Wine's "The People's Best New Chef of 2011." Only 10 chefs in the Southeast region were nominated for the award, and Trimm is the only chef representing Memphis. Up against chefs from Atlanta, Nashville, and North Carolina (including Kevin Gillespie, a finalist on Top Chef season 6), Trimm stands to bring even more attention to the blossoming culinary scene in Memphis.
"It is so big for Memphis. It's bigger than us," Trimm says. "It helps put Memphis on the map. Kelly [English] started it a couple of years ago, getting us national recognition. We've gotten the national recognition for barbecue, but to be in it for a different kind of dining is really an accomplishment for Memphis, and it's long overdue."
You can vote for Trimm (and Memphis) at http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2011/02/15/food-wines-the-peoples-best-new-chef-2011-southeast/.
Sweet Grass, 937 S. Cooper (278-0278)