Feeling up for a little fleischkaese? How about some jaegerschnitzel? No? Maybe you can opt for a currywurst or a side of spaetzle.
Chances are there are a few veterans out there nodding happily along right now, drifting off to their days overseas, but more than a few of you might be a bit confused — and much the worse because of it.
A trip to Dahlonega’s Bratzeit is a trip to a little slice of the Black Forest and Switzerland tucked along a roadside of the North Georgia mountain town. Run by Doris and Gion Giossi, the business is about to celebrate four years of serving the most authentic German and Swiss fare this side of the Atlantic.
On a slow Thursday afternoon, Doris and Gion talked about their arrival in Dahlonega, how they came to own their restaurant and the dishes they decided to put on the menu. They were seated at the table marked “stammtisch” — which back east would mark the large table set aside for locals to gather and exchange news and gossip.
The menu of sausages, potato salads, schnitzel (pork pounded flat, breaded and fried to a golden brown), cordon bleu, cheese and more is a reflection of Doris’ home of Stuttgart and Gion’s native southwest Switzerland.
“To me, somebody who was in Europe or lived in Europe or comes from Europe, if they tell you, ‘Oh my God, it tastes just like I remember or even better,’ that’s the biggest compliment you can get, right?” Doris said.
They specialize in a few mainstays, preferring a menu that is brief but consistent — allowing them to focus on authentic ingredients (finding the right distributors and importers of genuine sausages and cheeses took years).
“We try to keep it simple. We don’t have a chef who we can tell, ‘OK, we want this, that,’” Doris said. “So, Gion is in charge of the grilling, prepping the schnitzel on that side, and I make the gravy from scratch, the potato salad, the sides, the specials.
“Therefore, our menu is more limited, but we can keep it authentic and steady — and we don’t waste.”
Menu items are scratched out with white chalk on a blackboard: Customers have their choice of a few anchor items, but the most popular remain the schnitzels, both plain or served with a mushroom gravy, called a jaegerschnitzel.
There are a few items that run far afield of what an American might expect: Bratzeit serves fleischkaese, which is a blend of ground beef, pork and other meats that’s roasted and sliced into steaks. It can be served with bread, onions and even a fried egg laid on top.
There’s currywurst — sausage served with a curry ketchup and fries that is a standard street food in Germany — and baked cheeses and a cordon bleu dish that come from Gion’s Switzerland.
This winter, look for Doris to have a range of stews on the menu as specials, especially her Swiss barley soup and goulash.
“We have customers, they come and they tell me, ‘Give me whatever is in the pot,’” Doris said, laughing. “They come just for the specials.”
But the couple have shared not just their native food with Dahlonega; they’ve shared their cultures: Since opening in 2014, Bratzeit has become a second home to German nationals in the North Georgia and Atlanta areas.
Fun tidbit: Gion speaks Rommansh, a Latin language that is one of the four official languages of the Swiss.
One group has especially benefited from the business: the community of military veterans in the orbit of the University of North Georgia Dahlonega campus.
“I’m at least familiar with the Stuttgart area, where Doris is from. We’re familiar with Switzerland, having spent some time there,” said George Armijo, who spent more than 20 years in the Army, six of them stationed in Wurtzburg in Germany’s Bavaria region.
George and his wife, Kristi, moved to Dahlonega shortly before Bratzeit opened in 2014 to be closer to their children in metro Atlanta. They chose Dahlonega because they hoped to live in college town.
The choice was serendipitous, as the couple now gets to refresh and maintain the German they picked up while living overseas in the late 1980s.
“We lived on the economy,” George said, meaning the couple lived not on a military base but among German civilians — out in the neighborhoods of Wurzburg, like any other resident.
And with Doris and Gion, they get more than memories of good times overseas. George, a former bandmaster for the Army, every now and then gets to throw on his lederhosen and pack his trumpet to play in an oompah band that meets at the restaurant. Kristi gets to brush up on her German with Doris.
“Sometimes people come in and they say, ‘Oh, I’ve been to Germany and to Switzerland,’ and they start telling you the whole story,” Gion said of running the restaurant. “You really connect to the people — it’s amazing, it’s good. We never thought that would happen.”
Bratzeit’s home in Dahlonega been as much a happy coincidence for the Giossis as it was for the Armijos. Doris and Gion fell in love with the area while on a trip through Blue Ridge while living in Miami, their home of 15 years, but they didn’t know about the area’s large population of veterans and active-duty military around UNG or the German-speaking population nearby.
And the university community has benefited with them: At UNG, German students get a chance to practice their German at an informal clinic that meets once a month at the restaurant beginning in January.
The language, the culture, the clientele: It adds up to different approach in Dahlonega.
“For us, it’s really important,” Doris said. In those four years, we got to know so many people, and when they keep coming you see their children grow and you get to know family and they bring friends.
“It’s getting really personal, and that was a big thing for us; we wanted a European style, where food is a social event and not just come in and we need to turn the table and kick them out.”
And it all comes back to the stammtisch.
“That’s where the locals sit down and talk about politics, about hunting, about fishing — about everything,” Gion said. “We wanted to have that atmosphere as well. We have people, usually they come in on Friday, they know: ‘If I come in, she will be here,’ Gion gestured to Doris and then himself, ‘he will be here,’ and then they sit down here and they talk and they eat and they can sit here as long as they want.
“That’s the European tradition, the stammtisch.”