Gulf Gate’s Schnitzel Kitchen is big on the old-world German recipes, warm hospitality
By Jane Bartnett
There’s a magical little place in Gulf Gate on Superior Avenue called Schnitzel Kitchen. Walking through the door, I felt as though I’d been transported to a charming German family’s home filled with family treasures and an endless array of colorful beer steins that line the walls.
“Welcome to Schnitzel Kitchen,” said a smiling Penny Mitchell, dressed in a traditional German dress. A minute later, chef and owner Heidi Tutor was at her side.
“Willkomen,” said Chef Heidi in perfect German with a smile. Dressed in a pretty dirndl outfit as well, she led me to a center table. We began chatting like old friends.
Schnitzel Kitchen was busy for a Tuesday night with a steady stream of diners. Those who finished their meal stopped by to thank Heidi as others came through the door.
After meeting the red-headed chef whose joy in greeting guests shines through, it’s hard not to feel welcome and happy. The restaurant exudes casual and friendly warmth. It’s easy to feel as though you belong here.
As we began talking, I had to confess my limited knowledge of German cuisine.
“German food is more comfort food. It’s not as fancy as French food,” Heidi said while patiently discussing the menu. Everything, she noted, is handmade from scratch. The dishes are all made from her own recipes, including her famous schwinerbraten and best-selling schnitzel dishes, pretzels, breads, and baked goods.
When I asked about desserts, Heidi sat back and with a wonderful laugh said, “Oh, my plum cake is my signature dessert!”
Plum cake, I discovered, is a favorite German dessert from Bavaria. Heidi’s own recipe is beyond delectable.
After looking at the many dishes being served to guests seated at the neighboring tables, it was hard to decide what order. I made a mental note to come back soon with a group of friends.
When I mentioned this, Heidi said that she created her restaurant to be a place that people want
to come back to, where good times and good friends come to gather.
“It’s quiet tonight. At the end of the week, we get very busy. Every night we have a party. It’s Octoberfest all year round here,” she said. “We’re all happy here. I want people to feel as though they’re going to someone’s home.”
As we sat talking, Heidi’s mother Liz Thoren came in the door and joined us. A native of Long Island, Thoren is a frequent guest at her daughter’s restaurant. The warmth and love between mother and daughter shines through as the two spoke about food, Germany and the family.
“People come to Schnitzel Kitchen for the experience and to see Heidi,” said Thoren with a mother’s pride.
As the celebrated German chef continued to educate me on the basics of her native land’s cuisine, she explained how her own personal journey led her to open her restaurant in Gulf Gate some 10 years ago. As her mother looked on, Heidi spoke about her early life in Germany.
Born and raised in East Berlin during the darkest days of the Cold War, she grew up with her American mother and East German father.
“I always loved cooking and studied in a German culinary school,” Heidi said.
In 1989, she recalled, the Berlin Wall that separated communist East Berlin from West Berlin came down. “I was on the dark side,” she said seriously, referring to the wall. “Cooking was my way out and it brought me to America.”
She owned a restaurant in Berlin but after vacationing in Sarasota in 2007 decided to move here and opened an international restaurant in downtown Sarasota. She closed it after two years and put her culinary skills to work with several catering companies. In 2012, she opened Schnitzel Kitchen in Gulf Gate.
A year ago, she added music to the restaurant’s Wednesday through Saturday evening hours.
“It’s so much fun,” she said, showing me pictures of customers wearing hats, dancing, singing and toasting with steins of German beer. “Almudel Fred is our talented musician who plays a guitar, harmonica and an alphorn — a traditional German Alpine horn. We start dancing and playing spoons. Sometimes we even break into the chicken dance!”
As Heidi explains her carefully curated offerings of German beer and wine from Germany, France and South Africa, a buttery Bavarian pretzel appears on the table as an appetizer. Delivered by a smiling young man, Heidi introduces him as “my wonderful chef, Teddy Earl.”
A Sarasota native and member of the famous Wallenda circus family, he is Chef Heidi’s protege.
“We are always celebrating here,” said Heidi.
Last month, to celebrate national Weiner Schnitzel Day, the chef and her team appeared on Channel 7’s ABC Suncoast View where they cooked her famous schnitzel.
Now, a well-deserved little break is awaiting them.
“To prepare for the start of the busy winter season, we will be closed during the week of Oct. 16 through 24. On Oct. 25, we will reopen,” said the chef. “Then we’ll have a week-long Halloween celebration. What fun that will be!”