Autumn was beginning to peak as Gail and I headed north through Washington County.
“When are we having lunch?” my stomach began to complain.
“Now,” responded Gail as we pulled into a parking place on Main Street in Salem. Across the street was a two-story pale yellow building with green trim. Each of the large front windows of this 150-year-old brick former store announced “CAFÉ LUNCHEON.” A sign on the lawn in front added “HANDMADE CHOCOLATES.”
WHERE: 191 S. Main St. (Route 22), Salem, 854-3830, www.steiningers.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
HOW MUCH: $53.80, including soft drinks and coffee, but without tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, parking on street, all major credit cards accepted, noise level and music permits conversation
Inside, the walls and a dozen or so tables were covered with blue and yellow chintz — more charming than frou-frou thanks to knotty-pine wainscoting. “Like you are visiting someone’s home,” commented Gail.
Although the establishment features mainly luncheon items, a few offerings like two eggs, bacon and cheddar on a croissant ($8.95) would be suitable for breakfast, and several entrées like chicken curry over rice ($11.95) and the wurst sampler ($13.95) would satisfy early supper appetites.
A variety of wine and German beers are offered along with the usual coffee, tea and soft drinks.
Soup at Steininger’s is $4.50 a cup or $5.50 a bowl, but for soup lovers and experimenters, the best deal is the $10.50 Sampler — four small bowls of the four soups of the day, which for this particular Saturday were cream of tomato Parmesan; ginger bisque of butternut squash; black bean with pumpkin, ham and tomato; and turkey vegetable with rice.
The tomato stood out for its subtle basil flavor. Both Gail and I voted the butternut bisque the winner, possibly because we are fond of ginger. Both the black bean and turkey soups were no slouches, but I think it was the seasoning that put the first two in the winner’s circle.
Accompanied by a small but hearty loaf of crusty warm peasant-style bread with butter, the soups nearly stood on their own.
wurst to come
Steininger is a German name, and I hoped there might be some food to represent the nationality. A Wurst Sampler ($13.95) of knockwurst, bratwurst and kielbasa with Bavarian fried potatoes (fried with bacon and onions), served with house-made Bavarian mustard and bread was at the top of the page. Three large links of wursts were accompanied by sauerkraut, a small cup of dilled cucumbers in oil and vinegar, a sprig of bright green parsley for color, and two tiny pots of mustard. Ausgeseichnet!
Gail chose her turkey sandwich from a list of more than a dozen offered on Steininger’s home-baked breads, a French roll or croissant. It is also possible to pair a half sandwich with a cup of soup. All are in the $9-11 range.
Stacked high on rye bread was thinly sliced turkey, lettuce, tomato and a red onion ring, all moistened with mayonnaise ($8.25). The plate was balanced by a small mound of raisin-studded cole slaw. Said Gail, “The experience [of eating the sandwich] was reminiscent of the day after Thanksgiving — but without the cranberry sauce.”
Although half my meal was wrapped to take home, server Jessica sensed we might like to see the dessert menu, judging from the way I eyed the fresh berry puff with ice cream being enjoyed at the next table. She was correct.
There were at least two pages of desserts, making the choice difficult and a return visit necessary. After serious deliberation, Gail chose the Peach Melba puff with fresh raspberry sauce spooned over pieces of fresh peaches and vanilla ice cream, and topped with a dollop of real whipped cream.
“I’ve never had anything like this,” she sighed. “It’s as if they captured air, creating a dichotomy between the flaky pastry and the silky ice cream and whipped cream.” The peaches were fresh and the raspberry sauce was more whole raspberries than sauce. The puff itself resembled an open clam shell, revealing its treasures.
A borderline hot fudge addict, I opted for the Berry Sundae with Steininger’s version of the dark thick sauce served warm. Hot fudge is good with virtually anything, but especially with berries.
My sundae was presented in a traditional tulip glass with alternating layers of jewel-like raspberry sauce, vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. A dab of lightly whipped cream crowned the dessert without suffocating it. I would drive the 50 miles from home to Salem for this regal treat alone.
Paying the tab was a little tricky. The register sat atop a small glass case filled with attractively arranged hand-made chocolates. Although I had my eye on the peanut butter fudge, I bravely resisted.
Besides chocolates, Steininger’s also sells their own jams, chutneys and soups. Chocolates, hand-made in small batches by owner Xavier Steininger, are sold in vintage-looking cloth boxes. Along with his mother, Connie, he has been running the restaurant for 26 years, we were told by affable hostess Betty.