CORNWALL, Ontario — Schnitzel's European Flavors is an attractive restaurant in the center of Cornwall's business district. It's been around for about three years, offering a degree of big-city sophistication while maintaining an atmosphere of coziness in this Canadian border town.
We began our evening in the very welcoming and attractive bar area, a good-sized room separated from the dining area by a frosted glass wall. There's an impressive selection of international beers on tap, a great martini list — everything that's trendy right now.
Our efficient bartender provided intelligent conversation and excellent service: a perfectly poured Keith's from Nova Scotia and an Erdinger from Germany; a Stella Artois from Belgium; a Hendrick's gin martini garnished with a slice of cucumber.
Heading into the dining room, the atmosphere changes. There's more of a pub feel, with booths and tables arranged around a big, brick pizza oven in the middle. Huge wooden beams overhead suggest you might be in a rathskeller in some little town in Germany.
As we settled into a comfortable booth, close enough to the brick oven to watch the pizza guy working his magic, our expectations were high.
Nice stuff on the menu. For appetizers, wood oven garlic bread, steamed mussels, deconstructed bruschetta, oven-toasted camembert. For entrées, things like fresh Atlantic salmon, pork chops with caramelized onions, drunken beef short ribs, vegetarian stir-fry. Plus a section of "European Favourites" that includes beef goulash, pork goulash, Jager schnitzel, chicken almandine and a number of schnitzels made with chicken, pork or veal.
We got started by sharing one of the pizzas. Lots of options here. Classics like margherita, meat lovers and average Joe (pepperoni, mozzarella, Jack cheese and homemade tomato sauce). More adventurous ones like chipotle chicken, bacon cheeseburger and diablo (chicken, jalapenos, pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, onion, olives, Jack and chipotle hot sauce.)
We chose a lovely pizza called the "Tour of Rome" ($12.99), a thin, crisp crust topped with pieces of chicken breast, bacon, Parmigiano Reggiano, mozzarella and Jack cheeses. What really piqued our interest was a small Caesar salad, light on the dressing, plopped in the very center. A nice little flavor burst.
Also great for sharing was the charcuterie pour deux ($13.99), a selection of regional and imported cured meats and cheeses that includes Mennonite summer sausage and fresh St. Albert's cheese curd. The plate also contained pickled vegetables, sweet and tart tomato chutney, caramelized onions, some tasty grainy mustard and perfectly toasted crostini.
Here's an appetizer that really stood out — they call it "Porcini" ($7.99). It's a bowl full of wild and domestic mushrooms sautéed with butter, garlic and balsamic vinegar.
The mushrooms were tasty enough by themselves, but the sauce was really great. Simple and elegant.
Crab croquettes ($7.99) were little deep-fried crab balls with an oozy center, smoky and robust with cheddar and scallions and a touch of chipotle. Ours were actually cold on the inside, so they didn't ooze the first time around. Our waitress brought out another order and the problem was corrected. Mixed greens with a light vinaigrette was served alongside.
While we were generally impressed with the food to this point, our entrées didn't measure up.
Braised debrezini sausage ($18.99) consisted of two slightly smoky wine-braised sausage links set over a bed of sauerkraut and caramelized onion. We were told that debrezini is an Italian sausage, and that didn't make sense, being served with sauerkraut. I wonder if it was debreziner sausage, a smoky Bavarian blood sausage? Sauerkraut and onion were nothing special.
A side of potato salad we assumed would be warm German-style with vinegar and bacon turned out to be your basic picnic potato salad. It was very good, just not very German.
Now, you'd expect a restaurant with "schnitzel" in its name to serve up a pretty impressive schnitzel, right?
I ordered the "classic" pork schnitzel ($14.99) and it was a disaster. It was a breaded, overcooked, under-seasoned, dried out, tasteless, shoe-leathery piece of meat. Spaetzle, a German type of egg noodle, was equally disappointing, unusually yellow with a rubbery texture. Fresh, bland broccoli and carrots that came with it needed help, too.
Luckily I got a side of mushroom sauce ($2.99), a large ramekin full of sautéed mushrooms in a dark sauce, similar to the appetizer but without the balsamic vinegar. These mushrooms disappeared in a hurry. The schnitzel disappeared into the kitchen and ultimately the Dumpster.
Spiced chicken "Farcite" ($15.99) was a grilled chicken breast stuffed with cheddar cheese and roasted red peppers, served with a spicy cream sauce. The chicken was reasonably tender, the stuffing was skimpy and the sauce was long on Frank's chicken wing sauce ... short on cream and imagination.
The sides were the same boring broccoli and carrots, and the only thing loaded about the "loaded" baked potato we added on for $2.99 was the charge. Or maybe the guy who made it.
Goulash Segedin ($13.99) was cubes of pork slow-cooked with Hungarian paprika, caraway seed, cream and sauerkraut.
The pork wasn't exactly fork-tender, and take the sauce away, it was a little on the dry side. The smokiness you'd expect from Hungarian paprika wasn't there. If there was caraway in there, it was undetectable. And the spaetzle that accompanied? It really wasn't very good.
Dessert wasn't offered. Coffee was, so we went with cappuccino ($3.99). They also offer espresso, caffe latte and caffe mocha.
Our total for food for the evening came to $141 before tip but including Canadian taxes. A mug of beer cost $6.42, Hendrick's martini was $12, Crown Royal and Pepsi was $4.87. The Canadian dollar is virtually even with our currency right now.
Overall, we had a good time at Schnitzel's. Our bar experience was great; the ambiance of the restaurant was nice. Our server was competent and gracious.
The food had its ups and downs.
The ambiance and service were a solid 3½ forks; the food barely a 3, so we're giving Schnitzel's 3 forks on the strength of the ambiance and appetizers.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schnitzel's European Flavors
158 Pitt St.
1 (613) 938-8844
An attractive restaurant in Cornwall's business district offering big-city sophistication while maintaining an atmosphere of coziness. Wood-fired pizzas and "European Favourites" are their specialty.
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Try one of the wood-fired pizzas and one of the appetizers. We did not have a good experience with the schnitzel. There's an impressive selection of international beers on tap.