Gasthaus Zur Elli, Prosperity SC
Gasthaus Zur Elli is as authentic of an old world German restaurant as possible. The room is cozy and uplifting. Friendly faces greet you at the door and at the tables. In Germany, many “Gasthaus” restaurants seat people together. This builds a family atmosphere so familiar in Germany.
“We are all family in my gasthaus” Miss Wendy
“He’s a Gasthaus Groupie”Following is a section from the book “Stop where the parking lot‘s full”. This section describes the restaurant beautifully.
Gasthaus Zur Elli is located in an unassuming brick building near the square in downtown Prosperity. It’s small, seating only 50 or so, but correspondingly huge in personality and charm. Step through the door and enter an unexpected world that magically transports diners from everyday humdrum to Old World Bavaria. Atmospheric, rustic…yes, Gasthaus Zur Elli is all of that, but – surprise – in a restaurant world of faux ethnicity, it’s flat-out German every which and way.
Cuisine is but one component of eating at a German restaurant. Along the Rhine, there’s a certain buoyant spirit that makes dining an exhilarating experience. Try as you might to stay seated at your table, chances are that before the evening is over, you’ll be swaying arm-in-arm with new friends, singing beer hall favorites, and dancing in the aisles. You might be Elmer Fuddy Duddy, but you will sing and you will dance; that’s the German way.
That same conviviality is found at Gasthaus Zur Elli. It’s not eat and run; it’s a memorable night of dipping a fork, hoisting a stein, and raising the roof. Wendy Steiner makes sure of that. Owner, chef, and hostess, she was born in Birnfeld, Germany, and learned her way around the kitchen from mother and mentor Elli, a master chef in Wurzburg. “She made everything from scratch,” Wendy said. “It was authentic old-time German country cooking.”
Wendy came to America in 1978 and settled in Columbia where she managed convenience stores until the restaurant bug bit in 1999. “I took every penny I had and opened a coffee shop in Prosperity,” she said. “Mama told me I was too old to do such a thing, but I had faith I could be successful.” Following her mother’s death in 2001, Wendy renamed the restaurant in Elli’s memory, expanded the seating, and inaugurated a dinner menu.
Wendy cooks everything on two regular home stoves in the restaurant’s small kitchen. “I don’t go by recipes. I create. I take a dash of this and a pinch of that and blend it all together. Sometimes when I arrive at the restaurant, I haven’t a notion of what I’m going to cook.” But cook she does, offering six to eight different dinners each evening. “All my meals are honest-to-goodness German,” she said, “each pan-fried with genuine German seasonings and ingredients.”
The signature dish is the veal Wiener Schnitzel. Served with red cabbage and German potato salad, it’s simply delicious. And if somehow you’re still hungry after downing your meal, Wendy will come to the rescue. “Honey,” she said to me, “I’ll be glad to fix you an extra plate if you didn’t eat enough.” That was tempting for sure, but being completely stuffed to the size of a Gamecock left tackle, I declined-only to regain my senses and ask, “Wendy, you wouldn’t mind if I took that plate to go?” That’s what being a Gasthaus groupie does to you.
Gasthaus Zur Elli features Sauerbraten, sweet and sour roast beef with gravy and dumplings, the first week of each month; Hungarian Goulash, beef and pork tips in a spicy gravy with noodles on week two; Roladen, thin sliced beef with gravy and stuffed with bacon, onions, pickles, and mushrooms over noodles or dumplings on week three; and Schweinebraten, pork roast with gravy over mashed potatoes or spatzle, the fourth week. The regular menu includes a variety of schnitzels (pork, veal, and chicken), as well as Geschnetzeld (beef strips), Rindfleisch (beef roast), Rinderbraten (beef), and Cordon Bleu. Wendy also serves traditional German favorites Wild Boar and Rabbit. “People love rabbit in Germany,” she said. “I pan-fry the rabbit with carrots and leeks in a German butter and server it with spinach and noodles.” Gasthaus Zur Elli has a variety of German beers and wines available. And you won’t want to leave without sampling either the Apfel Strudel or Italian Crème Cake.
I’ve taken many a guest to Gasthaus Zur Elli and never had anyone who couldn’t wait to return for another helping of great food and Wendy’s effervescent personality. All the reason that Gasthaus Zur Elli is my favorite restaurant in South Carolina.
Stop Where the Parking Lot’s Full
Photos by Scot Jackson