The deli might be itty-bitty, but its Big Papa schnitzel most certainly is not.
Broadly cut and pounded thin, the pork cutlet coated in a crunchy breading tasted as delicious as my other favorite schnitzel destination, Bruno’s European Restaurant in Lakewood.
Put this little deli, called Itty Bitty Schnitty, on your radar not just because it’s a fun, little place with imaginative food or because German(ish) restaurants rarely open here, but because it makes darn fine schnitzel with a few flavor surprises.
“My mom was born in Germany. Our family lives in Graz, Austria,” explained owner Amber Cowart. “We’re a little closer to Hungary, so we use paprika and other spices in the schnitzel.”
“Ours is a little more spiced up, which is a little more flavor components coming through. I also added lemon flavor.”
She serves her schnitzel with a lemon wedge, as many restaurants do, but she incorporates lemon zest directly into the breading, which delivers a pleasing tang in concert with the spicing.
Cowart also has a few other food tricks up her sleeves. As is the case in Austria, she serves her schnitzel with lingonberry preserves, which she described as a perfect flavor companion.
“That tart jam plays so well with the crunch and the salt," she said. "We always had lingonberry jam with our schnitzel in Austria.”
The longtime food-industry worker followed her parents here from Arizona. An idea was born to create a food truck that would serve a fast food-style of their family’s favorite German-Austrian dishes, but with a modern, fun food truck spin. A year after opening the food truck, they were ready to find a commercial kitchen closer to their Browns Point home, but Cowart also wanted to try retail.
On May 5, Cowart opened the small deli counter inside the Lighthouse Market at Browns Point. It keeps limited hours, much like its predecessor, Lumpia World.
“It was busier than I had anticipated,” said Cowart. “I hadn’t done any advertising. When the lines started forming around the building, we were like, ‘Ok, game on, let’s do this.’”
The family took an all-hands-on-deck approach. Her sister flew in to help from Arizona. She commandeered her mother, Pauline Harrison, and father, Kent Harrison, along with her husband, Levi Cowart, to help.
Cowart and her chef, Nichole Potts, already are looking at hiring more employees because they’ve been so busy. Lesson: Bring your patience. They’re dealing with big crowds at the moment, as is true every time a German(ish) restaurant opens here.
Here’s a first-bite look at the restaurant. It’s this newspaper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
The space: The deli counter is tucked into the front right corner of the store. Diners order at the counter and find a seat. Seating is sparse with five tables and a few counter stools.
The center’s future: As reported by The News Tribune’s Kate Martin, a developer is exploring the possibility of razing the shopping center and turning it into a senior living development with street-level retail. If that happens, construction will be more than a year away.
House-made: Cowart makes by hand what most others would outsource, such as her house-fermented sauerkraut and the outstanding sweet-and-sour house pickles she brines for five days. She also makes the dumplings and spaetzle batter from scratch and the mushroom gravy. Spaetzle are boiled to order.
The menu: Two schnitzel sizes. The giant Big Papa with a side ($15) or bite-sized schnitzel nuggets called Itty Bitty Schnitty ($8). Sliders include a choice of chicken, eggplant or pork Itty Bitty Schnitty nuggets with three flavor configurations: Pineapple, ham and swiss on a Hawaiian slider roll; marinara, mozzarella and Parmesan on a potato roll; poppy seed slaw, house pickles and mustard on a pretzel bun (all $10, with a side).
Sides include cucumber salad, warm potato salad, fries, potato dumplings and bread dumplings. Upgraded sides ($2.50 more) include spaetzle and gravy or smothered fries with curry ketchup.
Don’t miss: There’s also a menu of specialty sausages. Wurst are from Seattle’s Bavarian Meats.
On a first visit: Go with the Big Daddy schnitzel, which held a sturdy crunch on the outside and tender pork inside, with a wedge of lemon and lingonberries on the side. A slider sandwich was divine with a tiny version of the big schnitzel, a sweet slaw, those terrific house pickles (cinnamon sticks in the brine give that aromatic flavor) and a swipe of mustard.
Sides were all terrific. Cucumber salad was sliced thin with a punchy sour cream-dill dressing. Handmade dumplings tasted creamy and dense. Cowart makes them from Yukon golds, which she said were the closest in starch content to the potatoes her family in Austria uses. She tops them with a ladle of her house-made mushroom cream gravy.
That same creamy gravy was served over spaetzle, which Cowart makes to order using a spaetzle press set over a pan of boiling water. Warm potato salad also was made with Yukon golds, with a puckery mustard vinaigrette and lots of bacon.
More schnitzel: In this order, my local favorites for schnitzel (besides Itty Bitty Schnitty) are Bruno’s European Restaurant in Lakewood, Citron European Bistro in Parkland, Mary Mary’s in Spanaway (Thursdays only) and Rhein Haus in Tacoma.
Itty Bitty Schnitty Deli
Where: 1000 Town Center NE, Tacoma (inside Lighthouse IGA)
Info: 206-693-4900 or ittybittyschnitty.com
Hours: 4-8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 1-8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday