It’s a mix of cuisines that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense until you meet the owner of Mino II in Garrett.
As soon as you hear her strong German accent, you understand why there is a variety of schnitzels on Toni Chisholm’s menu. And when you hear her passionately talk about her father, who moved his family from Naples, Italy, to Germany where he opened a pizza shop and Italian eatery – Mino I – the rigatoni, spaghetti carbonara and tortellini alla panna are not out of place, either.
And after trying things from both sides of the menu at this hidden little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, I can tell you that both styles of cuisine were prepared the right way – the old-fashioned, hard way. Toni and her daughter, Angelina Filluzzi, take pride in it and boast about it to customers.
Toni was born in the southwest Germany region known as Swabia and got her start in her father’s restaurant.
My dad let me make my first meal when I was 7, she said. It was soup and he sold it.
Her German recipes came from her mother, a Czechoslovakian refugee and a heck of a cook who relocated to Germany and learned to cook the food of the region.
Toni doesn’t have a preference between the two styles, and neither did I after eating at Mino II. I actually kind of wished there had been some kind of Hitler-Mussolini combo so I could have had both on one plate.
Given the scarcity of German cuisine in area restaurants, I was most eager to try that part of the menu, starting with the ever-so-easy-to-pronounce Jaeger Schnitzel with Kroketten. This pork loin was pounded thin, lightly dredged and sprinkled with parsley and pan sautéed with big sliced button mushrooms. The mushrooms and buttery, light brown gravy was poured over the loin and it was paired with a few homemade fried potato croquettes (kroketten).
The meat was fork tender and succulent, and the mushrooms accented it beautifully. The potato balls were crisp outside, velvety inside and I could have eaten about a dozen of them.
Then I moved on to the – yep, this is the real name – Schweinegeschnetzeltes with Roestie (potato cake), which was even better.
This pork loin was cut into pieces and cooked in thick, rich, white mushroom gravy, and served with two perfectly executed potato cakes. It was the kind of heavy dish one thinks of when it comes to German food and, short of needing just a little more salt, it, too, was wonderful.
As good as both potato sides were, they were nothing compared to the side dish I added to both. Toni makes homemade spaetzle – German noodles – pretty much daily. These thick round noodles that, honestly, look a little like worms, were German perfection – tender, a little doughy and perfect for soaking up all of the flavors of the sauces.
I kept it simpler, and easier to pronounce, when it came to the Italian entrée – baked rigatoni with meat sauce and fresh mozzarella. Unlike most baked pasta dishes, which are made with shredded, processed cheese, the fresh mozzarella transformed this usually simple dish into something special.
The generous amount of cheese sweated as it melted and made the pasta a little oily, but in a good way. The sauce was thick, almost like a ragu. It was meaty with a pure tomato flavor and not too many spices to muck it up.
It was good enough to make me want to try more of Mino II’s Italian menu, but that German side kept beckoning me.
During my first visit, Angelina, who provided perfect service to my parties during both visits, mentioned in passing that her mother made several other off-menu German dishes to run as specials from time to time. But when she mentioned that rouladen was one of her favorites, I perked up. And I knew when I would make my next visit.
It was hard to pinpoint the day my favorite German dish – thinly sliced steak rolled around a pickle, bacon, onions and a little yellow mustard – would be offered. Without a website or updated Facebook page, I had to call every so often to see when the dish would be offered. A couple of Thursdays later, I was in luck. If she has a special, it is usually on Thursday, Tina said.
The rouladen’s fillings were nicely seasoned, the bacon was tender and added just a hint of saltiness, and the pickle added tang. What brought it all together was the dark brown pan jus that coated it all in a blanket of flavor from the slow-cooked meat’s drippings. It was paired with sweet red cabbage and, of course, spaetzle.
The meat was a tad tough, but the dish was still great and worth the extra trip to Garrett for sure.
Tina uses her spaetzle press to make a quirky, almost silly, dessert, too. She presses ice cream through it to create her spaghetti ice cream. Or, if you want a more serious final course, try her Pear Helena – canned pear halves saturated with chocolate syrup and topped with ice cream.
The most perfect meal-ender was another Italian treat. Toni made me possibly the best espresso I have ever had. I don’t usually go for espresso – I prefer my coffee sweet and creamy – but Mino II grinds its own beans and created a perfect cup with that signature velvety layer of foam (crema) on top.
Restaurant: Mino II
Address: 114 S. Randolph St., Garrett
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Smoking status: Smoking and non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Schweinegeschnetzeltes ($10), Jaegerschnitzel ($9.50), rigatoni ($9), rouladen ($7.50), dessert ($2.50), espresso ($2.50)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).