Thursday is schnitzel-pounding day at Beethoven’s #9 in tiny Paola, Kan., 30 minutes south of Olathe on U.S. 169.
Co-owner Linzi Weilert slices off a thick slab from a whole pork tenderloin, slits it down the center, butterflies it open with one hand, then pounds it with a heavy metal mallet, moving in rhythmic diagonal motions outward from the center.
Fifteen seconds later, a schnitzel the size of your face is ready to be dredged in flour, dipped in egg and coated with breadcrumbs ground fine as sand from homemade dinner rolls. On a busy Saturday night alone, 80 browned-in-butter schnitzels will be dispatched from the kitchen to hungry diners.
Despite possibly the most charming restaurant name ever, Beethoven’s #9 managed to serve authentic German food on the historic town square for more than 20 years without making it onto the radar of mainstream foodie-dom in Kansas City.
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That all changed in 2014 when Weilert, whose father’s heritage is German, and her Italian-American mom, Jeanie Clerico, bought out the original German owners and expanded and upgraded the menu.
Weilert, who has a culinary degree from Platt College in Oklahoma City and was sous chef at Pig & Finch in Leawood, says her German heritage did not factor into choosing to serve German food.
It was a coincidence that when her mom grew tired of working in the financial end of the health care industry in Topeka and started doing online searches for “restaurant for sale,” Beethoven’s #9 popped up.
Neither mother nor daughter had ever been to Paola, but they shared a dream of an eatery in a charming old building. The restaurant had enough devoted local fans that Weilert decided to keep the name and German flavor of the menu.
As Weilert expanded the schnitzel offerings and fine-tuned a battery of authentic, vinegar-y German sides — green beans with bacon and onions, hot potato salad, sweet-and-sour red cabbage, warm kraut with caraway — word got out. Soon Beethoven’s #9 was drawing 75 to 80 percent of its traffic from the metro.
The runaway best-seller of the seven schnitzels ($16-$18 with two sides and a homemade roll) is the Jager Schnitzel with its classic mushroom-cream sauce. Runners-up are the Ziguener Schnitzel with grilled onions, peppers and red wine and the Schnitzel ala Holstein with two eggs on top.
Clerico’s Italian heritage and baking skills only added to the buzz. Her skyscraper layer cakes, lumpy strudels and fruit-drenched cobblers entice from large platters on the bar, and her presence is equally inviting.
“My favorite part is talking to the guests,” Clerico says. “I’m Italian, I’m loud and I talk with my hands and I love to give food to people. I’ll walk by people and hear that moan (when they take a bite) and there’s nothing better.”
▪ Beethoven’s #9, 110 W. Peoria St., Paola, 913-294-3000, beethovens9.com. The restaurant is closed starting March 19, reopening March 31 with new days of operation, Thursday through Sunday. The owners will move the restaurant to a new building one block away in May; check website for updates.