An Unlikely Vegan Ally: The German Schnitzel Haus

The Impossible Burger at German Schnitzel Haus, Photo by Nate Mayo

Photo by Nate Mayo

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to The German Schnitzel Haus, a few years to be exact. What put them back on the radar for me was the Impossible Burger. It’s a burger that is plant-based, but it smells and tastes like meat. It even bleeds red. But that’s not all they do at GSH. They have killer house-made pretzels, beef stroganoff, schnitzel, German pulled pork fries and even a whole Vegan menu. I sat down with Chef Steve and Lisa Thurston, the husband and wife duo behind GSH two talk all things food.

Chef Steve didn’t go to culinary school. His love for cooking came from his “grandmothers”. (The neighbor that took care of him and his biological grandmother). “Other than that, I’ve just been cooking for 20 years. Everything I do sometimes the smell can bring me right back to hanging out with my grandmother in the kitchen. To me, there is nothing more priceless than that memory being relived over and over again, so if I can bring that to a guest sitting a table, I mean I’ve kind of done my job, you know.” He was at Marker 32 for 3 1/2 years, opened up North Beach Fish Camp as the sous chef, then executive chef for the Good Food Company for 3 years, and now the chef at GSH.

Chef Steve developed the menu. He asked the owners to give him time and let him do it his way. It’s been 4 years now and GSH continues to evolve. “We’ve added things I never thought about putting on the menu like burgers and vegan stuff. My wife is a big catalyst in saying we need to appeal to more people other than just Germans or people looking for a German Disney World experience, which is something we don’t want to provide for people. It can get a little wearing on the soul when all you can hear is the polka music. We do some fun things with the food.

Beef Stroganoff, Photo by Nate Mayo

Are you German?

My background is that my dad is African American and my mom is French, English and Irish. I left Good Food and I wound up at this pizza place called Perrard’s. I stayed there for a year with my wife and we saw an ad for somebody looking for a chef. We answered it and when we got there it was the people who owned GSH. The owner straight out said ‘I’ve had your cooking before, do you know how to cook German?’ and I said, ‘not a lick.’ So he actually had a kitchen full of cooks that had no idea how to cook German either. I got rid of everybody and brought in friends and family that I knew from the business to help me. Then, I started watching German Youtube videos. I don’t know how to speak German so a lot of stuff got lost in translation. I started taking some of the stuff I found and experimenting over with recipes in the kitchen.

What are the most popular dishes? 

The pretzels, beef stroganoff, and the schnitzel.

What is schnitzel? 

If you’re talking about Wiener schnitzel, it’s a thinly breaded piece of veal. We also do pork, veal, and chicken. But the traditional sense would be veal.

When the owner tells you to make German, do you ask yourself what am I doing? or do you just go for it? 

I just dove in head first. Nothing is better than a challenge.

Lisa: He loves a challenge. If anyone ever challenges him or says I don’t think it can be done, it will be done. It really pushes him. A big part of it was not knowing anything about the German food or culture for both of us. Even the beers here, we only carry German beers on tap.

Photo by Nate Mayo

Vegan brunch?

We have a traditional brunch and a vegan brunch. Every Sunday from 11:30am-2pm, bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys.

Do you know a lot of vegan people or did they just start coming? 

It happened after we got challenged to do a vegan dinner with @JaxVeganLove. Then, people started asking me to add things to the menu and I wasn’t very interested. I didn’t really have an open mind about it because I didn’t think that people wanted to come to a German place to eat vegan food. That was my mistake, what I didn’t realize is that there weren’t enough chefs that cared about making vegan food fun. We had another six-course vegan dinner and this time I tried to do the faux fried chicken. They wanted to do a vegan brunch so I developed a faux fried chicken and waffles dish. Slowly but surely, our brunch started to take off. I read a book about making cheeses out of nuts and thought that it tasted better than regular cheese does. I made vegan blue cheese, ranch, and I looked everywhere for more inspiration. About 25% of our business right now is vegan. I try to make an effort to talk to my vegan guests and ask them what they miss from before they were vegan. For example, if they tell me they haven’t had a meatball since they went vegan I would try to make a vegan meatball.

The Impossible Burger at German Schnitzel Haus, Photo by Nate Mayo, Vegan
The Impossible Burger, Photo by Nate Mayo

How did you start the Impossible Burger?

It smells, chars, and even appears to bleed like meat. It comes from the root of the soy plant. We kept trying to reach out to get this plant-based meat because we knew that if we did it would be another door opening for more vegans to come. My wife has a restricted diet that makes her eat in a very simple way. It is difficult for her to eat sometimes and when we talk to our vegan friends we realized that we actually live this and understand. We want our guests to understand that we will still have meat here because it is a German restaurant. However, we want our vegan guests to still come because mostly everything is from scratch and there is a great need for vegan options in our area.

How much are bottomless mimosa? and Bloody Marys?

The bottomless traditional mimosas are $10 and if they use the vegan champagne it is $12. The bottomless Bloody Mary is $12.

What are your short term and long term goals? 

We have talked to the owners about opening another Schnitzel House in a different location. A long-term goal would be to own our own place and have a fully plant-based restaurant. I believe that I can cook anything, but making something taste like it has meat in it is almost provocative to me. I have always wanted to make it so that the ultimate carnivore could come in and not be disappointed with what is in front of them. I used to think that everything that is vegan has to be healthy, but a lot of times some people are looking for vegan junk food.

Bee Sting Cake, Photo by Nate Mayo

Is there anything else you want everyone to know about German Schnitzel Haus? 

I don’t know how you can make someone understand what you give your life to without sounding egotistical. I live here and my wife lives across the street. We do this because we love the job we are doing and we love people. When you walk in it feels like you came to someone’s house for a home-cooked meal. We are small and it has a down-home feel. All of our food is handmade and the things we do not make are made locally. We choose to work with companies that have just as much integrity as we do.

GastroFest 2018, Museum of Science and History, Jacksonville, Florida, MOSH, food festival

If you want a change of pace in your dining arsenal, try out German Schnitzel Haus. So many things to try such as the homemade pretzels, German beer, Beef Stroganoff, “Bee Sting” cake, or maybe the infamous “Impossible Burger”. Catch the German Schnitzel Haus at GastroFest on March 24!


About Nate Mayo