DATE: Sunday, May 11, 1997                  TAG: 9705130526



        This is another in an occasional series on regional restaurants that

        serve up  food in such a special way that people will drive miles

        farther just to eat  there. Maybe you know of such a place. Call us at

        446-2949; we'd like to check  it out.




If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

- Old saying made popular by Harry Truman

WHAT ECKHARD THALWITZ came to realize, a half-dozen years into a fairly early retirement, was that he thrived on the heat of the cookstove, and that he missed the kitchen.

The German-born chef had turned over his widely acclaimed Bavarian Chef restaurant in Madison County north of Charlottesville to his son, Jerome, and he and wife Brunhilde, had moved to White Stone at the Tidewater tip of Virginia's Northern Neck.

Oh, of course, at first he enjoyed doing all those things we all think we want to do when we retire. But Eckhard was only in his early 50s. He had been working in kitchens since his 13th year when he left home in Aschaffenburg, near Frankfurt, to began an apprenticeship.

``I stayed busy,'' Eckhard recalls of the early retirement years, ``at first remodeling homes. I fixed up boats, and we sailed to Florida. We had a home right on the water, but when I saw those nettles come in, I knew I had to build a swimming pool. So I did that too.''

And Jerome was doing just fine back in Madison with the Bavarian Chef. Of course he would. He had grown up at his father's side, and, like his father, he had served an apprenticeship in southern Germany.

All was well, except . . . . except Eckhard began to run out of projects. He did have one that he considered almost every day - at least subconsciously - one that ultimately would put him back in the kitchen.

There was an abandoned 7-Eleven building on Virginia Route 3, a few miles south of White Stone on the Middle Peninsula side of the Rappahannock River. ``I saw the place almost every day as I drove by,'' Eckhard recalls. ``I always said to myself, `That's such a nice property.'

Besides, ``we never knew where to go for dinner,'' Eckhard laughs.

Eckhard laughs easily. And his ample girth indicates he enjoys the creation and the consumption of his cuisine in equal measure.

``When we came back from Florida a few years back, I saw a `For Sale' sign out in front. I asked my wife, `Are you game?'

When Bruni said yes, there was no stopping Eckhard.

``I found out that there were two options on the property already, with some contingencies,'' he recalls. ``I said, `I'll give you cash, no contingencies.' Two hours later we were back in the restaurant business.''

Of course it wasn't quite as simple as that. Actually they were back in an empty building with a lot of imagination in their heads. Which was not the first time.

Eckhard and Bruni had to transform an abandoned 7-Eleven into what is now, well, a pretty posh restaurant - called simply Eckhard's - that you probably wouldn't guess had started out as a convenience store unless someone told you.

A daunting project? Hardly. Not to Eckhard and Bruni Thalwitz. They spent a childhood in the boiled-over caldron that was Hitler's shattered Third Reich. They knew what starting from scratch was all about.

And they had started very nearly from scratch once before with the Bavarian Chef.

After his apprenticeship and hotel school in Lausanne, Switzerland, Eckhard had worked his way up the chef hierarchy in Germany, France and Morocco. On a honeymoon trip to the United States, Eckhard had been offered a job he couldn't refuse at the exclusive Gulph Mills Golf Club in King-of-Prussia, Pa.

Thanks to their sponsor, a Bouvier, whose niece was living in the White House at the time, the Thalwitzes were able to stay in the U.S. In order to be closer to his brother, Wirfred, who was an officer with the World Bank in Washington, Eckhard began looking for a place in Virginia.

They settled in Madison County because, he says, ``It seemed like a nice place'' and because it reminded him a lot of Europe. ``The mountains are exactly like where I come from.''

In an old, fairly run-down truck stop they started anew, this time in their own restaurant - about five miles south of the town of Madison and 20 miles north of Charlottesville on U.S. 29.

At a crossroads called Shelby, which is more a state of mind than an actual community. Pretty close to nowhere at all.

That was the spring of 1974, when the Bavarian Chef was born.

Nobody knew quite what to make of it at first, particularly the people of rural Madison County. Well, yes, there are right many Lutherans in the area. Hebron Church, just up the road off Virginia Route 231, is the oldest (about 1740) Lutheran church in the south.

But a real German restaurant, eh, with real Germans? Out there in the country? Who'll go there?

Turns out, a lot of people. Locals, sophisticated folks from Charlottesville, Richmond. Somebody even wrote about it in the New York Times and then the whole world knew.

And once they ate at the Bavarian Chef - which quickly lost the truck stop look - they kept coming back. Big portions, really big portions, the kind that call for styrofoam takeout cartons, at prices people in the area could afford had a lot to do with it. That and the fact the food was delicious.

Was then, and still is today, 23 years later, under Jerome's direction.

It was a formula that Eckhard decided to use again at Eckhard's, now 2 years old. And if a crowded parking lot is any indication, it's working well in the Tidewater location as well.

I ate at both places recently, and aside from decor, there seems to be very little difference between the two restaurants.

The menus, in fact, are nearly identical - mostly German fare with a few choices that fall into the vague category usually called Continental. There is an extensive wine list, mostly white as you might expect, and a dozen or so beers, a few domestic but mostly German, including Spaten and Paulander drafts.

I had Saturday supper at the Bavarian Chef, where, unfortunately, I missed Jerome Thalwitz. He and wife Diane were in Russia, completing the procedures for adopting a baby. He has trained his stand-in chefs well.

The Bavarian Chef has a sort of mock-Bavarian look on the outside. Downstairs is slightly fancier than upstairs with a mural of a Bavarian scene. Upstairs is more like a loft, with cozy booths tucked under rough-hewn sloping ceilings and exposed beams, tables down the middle.

Appetizers ranged from $3.95 to $5.95; a tossed salad was $2.95, Caesar $3.95. The 15 entrees ranged in price from $14.95 to a $20.95 filet mignon. I'm told the most popular dish is Jagerschnitzel - veal medallions covered in bacon, mushrooms and creme fraiche - at $17.95, which includes a choice of two of eight vegetable selections and several kinds of bread with whipped butter.

I was instead tempted by one of two off-the-chalkboard daily selections: Sliced roast pork with purple plum sauce over wild rice. In less than 10 minutes it arrived, a half-dozen slices of lean, succulent pork probably weighing a half pound, accented by sweet and spicy red cabbage and fairly ordinary green beans.

I topped this off with a hearty slice of Black Forest cake. Isn't that what you're supposed to eat in a German restaurant?

Next day at noontime I was ready for the sequel at Eckhard's . . . Eckhard's new place.

This time I went for the Huhnerbrustchen Baden Baden, which I had seen a number of guests raving over the night before at the Bavarian Chef.

Eckhard told me later that he ``invented'' this dish in the swimming swimming pool - ``I come up with so many ideas in the pool,'' he said - which is why the dish is named after the German city that has been one of the world's great spas since Roman times.

It's a boneless breast of chicken with an apricot-chestnut stuffing and lots of sweet, fruity sauce and a couple of strips of bacon on top. It costs $15.50, which includes two vegetables; I had red cabbage again, because that's just what you have in a place like this, along with that other German specialty, spaetzle, rich egg noodles that I must confess I still haven't acquired a taste for.

On this Sunday, Eckhard's was offering 18 entrees on the menu plus another four unlisted specials. Prices, with a nice, fresh tossed salad and rolls, ranged from $13.75 (a bratwurst sampler) to $19.95 (medallion of beef tenderloin Diane). Homemade desserts range from $3.95 to $5.75.

This sort of quality or preparation and presentation would easily cost 25 to 50 percent more if these delightful restaurants weren't in more or less remote locations.

But that's always been Eckhard's first goal - feed the locals at a price they can afford. The word will spread.

Guten appetit. ILLUSTRATION: Color photos

Eckhard Thalwitz started this Northern Neck restaurant a few years

after retiring from...

...his Madison County restaurant, which he had turned over to his

son, Jerome.



Location: Virginia Route 3 in Essex County on the Middle

Peninsula near the Rappahannock River bridge. About a 1 1/2-hour

drive from South Hampton Roads.

Proprietors: Eckhard and Brunhilde Thalwitz.

Phone: (804) 758-4060.

Open: Wednesday-Saturday 4:30 to 9 p.m., Sunday 11:30 to 9.

Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Seating: About 70. Handicap access.

Reservations: Not necessary.

Fare: Primarily German, but local American dishes also served.

Price range: Moderate; excellent value for the price.

Dress: Casual.

Smoking: Limited.


[home] [ETDs] [Image Base] [journals] [VA News] [VTDL] [Online Course Materials] [Publications]

Send Suggestions or Comments to
by CNB