Editor’s Note: Grill 212 is now closed.
When Chef John Schumacher and his wife Kathleen decided to close Schumacher’s Restaurant and Hotel in 2005, their decision was greeted with a flurry of responses. Both New Prague locals and city residents — who often made the trek down to the central European-focused restaurant — quickly scheduled their last reservations. According to the website, Schumacher’s received a staggering 25,000 phone calls during their last 83 days of business. The people had spoken. They didn’t want to see an end to the 30-year run of the fine-dining institution, beloved by Minnesotans (with its large population of Nordic and German descendants) for its game-focused meat selection, red cabbage, and schnitzels.
Years passed, and after a few failed attempts by the Schumachers to sell the building, the doors remained closed. They began to consider the inability to sell as a sign. “We thought, maybe we’re still supposed to be doing this. It might be meant to be,” says Kathleen. After 2 ½ years of figuring out the financing, Schumacher’s officially reopened in October 2009 — on the very same date John and Kathleen opened the original restaurant and hotel back in 1974. The hotel name remains the same, but the restaurant is now called Grill 212.
Today’s menu is both the same and different than the original. “We wanted to adapt to today’s time and economy,” says Kathleen. “We also wanted to keep the old flavors.” The old Schumacher’s was meant to be a special occasion dining experience with three-hour dinners, an extensive European wine list, and menu items teetering on the pricey side. Grill 212 is a more casual reinvention, less central European-focused and more affordable. The menu showcases a marriage between old and new – one will find a classic cheeseburger next to slow roasted Czech duck (an old favorite), as well appetizers ranging from an oversized shrimp cocktail to pheasant bundles.
From the appetizer side, the Mushrooms Kathleen, mushrooms stuffed with scallops and drizzled with bacon shallot garlic butter, are served with tiny wedges of rye toast — perfect for mopping up any remaining butter that might exist after the mushrooms are long gone. They’re a hearty beginning to a meal, no skimping on scallop size here. The sampler platter would provide a newbie with a nice introduction to the traditional Schumacher flavor profile. It’s a traditional platter of pheasant, Czech, and NP Banger sausages, chicken pate, Russian egg, pickled cucumber, and blue cheese-stuffed peppers. Oh, and it’s also accompanied by rye toast.
All entrees include two sides, with options ranging from fried dumplings and gravy, to tater tots, to stuffing with gravy. Sandwiches (among them the familiar Reuben and Rachel) include the choice of one side. As far as entrees go, the slow-roasted Czech duck has skin so crispy it’s almost like you’re snacking on potato chips – but the kind that instantly melt in your mouth. It’s served with a side of cranberry dressing with citrus zest. The roasted goose is braised in onions and topped with cranberry glaze — worth a try even if you’re not prone to ordering game. John certainly knows how to diminish the tough, gamey tastes one might associate with goose, pheasant, or elk, and how highlight their flavors in a gourmet way. If you stick to the European menu offerings, the tastes are almost as if you were a guest at a German grandmother’s house, filling, flavorful, and focused on meat and potatoes. But the option remains to have a meal free from European fare with the help of simple dishes like a Cobb salad, a BLT, or a pint of onion rings.
The wine list is much simpler than it used to be, and less focused on European vintages. It’s one page long and has about a dozen options, from South American to American varietals. The beer selection ranges from well-known national brands to regional craft beers. But if you want a German dunkelsbier, that’s certainly an option too.
The restaurant itself looks entirely different. Gone is the distinct old-world charm and gift shop filled with nutcrackers and other Nordic merchandise. There is a casual dining area in the front that looks right onto Main Street, and the more formal ambiance of the previous main dining room has been replaced with simple wooden chairs, sky blue tablecloths (spread on the old State Fair tables), and a chocolate brown ceiling. A long blue table with a massive flower arrangement sits in the middle of the room. The aesthetic of the restaurant, and the hotel, is definitely contemporary, with touches of European charm – such as the painted flowers accompanied by their “auf Deutsch” names that line the staircase leading up to the suites. The rooms are named after months, again, in German tongue.
Reopening has helped to simplify life for John and Kathleen. Even with the four-year closing, the couple always remained busy. Together with his wife, John has released eight cookbooks and a product line of dry mixes called Game Gourmet, run a successful stand at the State Fair (specializing in Reubens, Rachels, pork chops-on-a-stick, and the likes), contributed to several cooking DVDs, and been a consistent culinary figure in the local media. But they’ve made some significant lifestyle changes, selling their spot at the Fair and taking a break from the other extra-curricular activities. Right now the focus is entirely on the restaurant.
A self-described sufferer of attention deficit disorder, John seems relieved to be settling into a simplified and more structured schedule. He’s back in the kitchen, behind the line every day, and loving it. “We’ve had such a homecoming and warm welcome,” says Kathleen. “It’s funny. We didn’t think anyone would want to hire us at this point. So we had to go and hire ourselves.”
212 W Main St
New Prague, MN 56071
OWNER / CHEF: John and Kathleen Schumacher / John Schumacher
Open Daily at 5pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes for Weekends
ENTREE RANGE: $9-22