By Wendy and Mike Pramik
Posted On: May 27, 2022
With its German heritage and early reputation as "Porkopolis," it's not surprising you can find an authentic (and delicious) pork schnitzel in Cincinnati.
But the location of one top-notch version of the crispy-coated pork cutlet breaks with tradition.
Don't look for an oompah band, cuckoo clocks or servers decked out in lederhosen at The Lubecker, located at the Queen City Radio beer garden in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The eatery created by Olaf Scheil, who hails from the north German town of Lubeck, is rather humbly situated inside two converted shipping containers on the beer garden patio.
It's been Scheil's dream to open a restaurant since he was 16, growing up in the state of Schleswig-Holstein with his mom and two older sisters. Now 52, he also has set himself on a bigger mission: to bring authentic German food back to Cincinnati.
"Cincinnati is full of rich German heritage, however, there's a lack of options when it comes to German cuisine," he says.
Pork schnitzel sandwich
Scheil decided to do something about it. He came up with a knockout schnitzel sandwich, using high-quality ingredients and professional preparation methods, including machine-tenderizing local pork tenderloins rather than pounding them by hand, which can make them stringy. He serves the sandwich on a locally sourced pretzel bun and tops it with tomato, spring lettuce mix, and lemon-garlic aioli.
For the past few years Scheil and his wife, Rachel, had been selling the sandwiches at local fairs and other events. Locals voted the sandwich the "most authentic food" for several years at the Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, deemed "America's largest Oktoberfest." The couple also work the Germania Oktoberfest, which will celebrate its 50th year at the end of August.
While the schnitzel sandwich grabs the attention, The Lubecker also offers a few other German favorites. They include Jagerschnitzel, pork schnitzel served with mushroom gravy; mettwurst, a German sausage; bratwurst; and currywurst, sliced bratwurst coated in a special German curry sauce. The latter resembles a spicy ketchup, not Indian curry.
A Reuben pretzel sandwich and hamburgers and cheeseburgers round out the menu.
Scheil is especially proud of the currywurst, which is a staple of German street food.
"Visitors from Germany who happen to stop by are skeptical at first, but I think it can match any vendor in Germany," he says. "Currywurst is the most popular item in Germany. They even have a museum in Berlin devoted to the currywurst, (the Deutsches Currywurst Museum)."
Scheil isn't a trained chef. He learned to cook while growing up in Germany with his single mother and two sisters.
"Mom had to work, and when I came home after school, I remember looking through the kitchen cabinets, thinking, 'What's there? What can I make?' We didn't have a lot, so I learned to improvise, like cooking noodles in milk with tons of sugar. It's called milk soup."
Scheil attended law school in Germany, but he says he didn't like it. Instead, he worked for an engineering company that performed testing of light standards. He came to the Cincinnati in 1998 as part of that business, and when it closed its operations four years later, he decided to stay rather than accept a transfer offer to the Netherlands.
He later worked for Nielsen Global Solutions, where he eventually grew to a managerial position. He met Rachel there, then decided to chuck the corporate life to pursue his dream of being a restaurateur.
Scheil says he was taken by the architecture of Over-the-Rhine and its German history, but he became perturbed that the prevailing image of German cuisine was to sit in an echoey hall and drink draft beer from a stein while feasting on big plates of food.
German cuisine today is more about street food, smaller plates of food served from food trucks, so with Rachel's help, Scheil started selling schnitzels and currywurst at fairs and other pop-up locations.
They gained a following, including Polly Campbell, the former, longtime restaurant reviewer at the Cincinnati Enquirer. She was a judge at the Oktoberfest.
Recently Scheil had the opportunity to open the permanent location at Queen City Radio, and it was a quick hit. Customers can eat authentic German food while sipping local and other beers outside at picnic tables.
Scheil says the scene feels more contemporary than a traditional German restaurant. There's a diverse crowd, from parents toting children to fashionable young people out for a good time. The music is an eclectic mix of modern and alternative. The mood shifts throughout the day, but his schnitzel sandwiches remain consistent.
It's been a good combination thus far, if you ask any Cincinnatian who's tried the schnitzel or currywurst (or both) at The Lubecker.
"I learned my passion for cooking growing up at home, but I always put it on the back burner," Scheil says. "Because I thought, no, I'll make it in the corporate world. In the end I did. But at some point, you just want to do what makes you happy."
*The Lubecker is open Wednesdays through Sundays at Queen City Radio, 222 W. 12th St., Cincinnati. Check The Lubecker website for hours.