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CRAIG H. HARTLEY :

SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE

There's an art to making good Wiener schnitzel, and chef Rudi Lechner has mastered it.

Considering the vast number of German  descendants in Texas, it should be easy enough to find a German restaurant in the Bayou City.

But there are only a handful in Houston and another scattered around the edges. Why?.

"I've been trying to figure this out for the past 30 years," said chef Rudi Lechner, whose lively, self-named German restaurant has packed in generations of Houstonians It's worth a little effort to find one, though. There are few settings more grounding and life-affirming than a traditional German restaurant filled with families, overflowing plates, lifted beer steins, tastings of schnapps and, if you're lucky, an accordionist playing a polka in the corner. That's especially true during Oktoberfest, which is celebrated at restaurants and festivals worldwide throughout October.

Rudi Lechner's is one of those places. Here, families applaud when Lechner makes his tableside Gute Nacht Kaffee, flamboyantly pouring flaming streams in an arc between two goblets.

"I do it myself, because I don't want anyone to get set on fire," says Lechner, who opened the restaurant more than three decades ago.

The parking lot gets packed and lines form at his popular Wednesday night Oktoberfest buffet. Tables are close, lending a clubby atmosphere decorated by paintings of Lechner’s native Austria