– Words by Jane Mundy Photography by Don Denton
We know that a good cook can serve up memories from faraway places or offer a ticket back to childhood.
If you’re craving currywurst like you once scarfed down in Berlin, a pretzel at Oktoberfest, schnitzel at a Michelin-star restaurant in Munich or spaetzle that your mother lovingly made, go directly to Eva Schnitzelhaus, where chef Maxime Durand will transport you to Deutschland and satisfy your cravings.
But don’t just take my word for it. Patron Duane Bell had only just returned from Austria and Germany when I met him at Eva’s.
“Germans and Austrians take their schnitzel seriously, so I was shocked at how good it was at an eatery in Victoria,” said Duane. “The currywurst was so good that it took me back to the street stall in Berlin, and all four of us ordered seconds—as well as every appetizer on the menu.”
Like most Austrians, Duane takes schnitzel seriously. “You can tell there’s a lot of pride behind this food, and combined with great service we are thrilled to discover this eatery—my German and Austrian tastebuds zing.”
Eva’s menu is simple and spare, but the flavours are complex and the portions are big. For instance, Maxime adds 10 spices, perfectly balanced, to his currywurst, and ginormous schnitzels barely fit on the dinner plate. The breading is crisp and greaseless and the meat so tender. You’ll find classic choices such as schweineschnitzel (German pork schnitzell), roesti and raclette, but with modern twists. Fresh, local produce and the eggplant schnitzel—prepared sous vide with a side of rutabaga and sauerkraut—will bring a vegetarian back for more. I will return for a plate of braised red cabbage alone.
You won’t know from the menu that almost everything, from schnitzels and spaetzle to pretzels and pickles, are haus-made at Eva’s and there’s even a smoker in the kitchen to smoke ham hocks and bacon, thanks to chef Maxime and his sous-chef Emile pulling double shifts.
One afternoon, I witnessed the pretzel prep. The dough is fermented overnight and chilled. Once about four dozen are shaped, they are dipped in an alkaline solution to caramelize the dough and proofed for half an hour before baking.
“We try to serve them hot-out-of-the-oven just before dinner time,” Maxime explained.
And getting back to the currywurst, it’s classic Berlin street food, served with dollops of curried ketchup and potato chips. North America’s equivalent is the steamed, smothered hot dog at the hockey game or street stall—but it’s way better. Just for starters, Maxime’s ingredients don’t include preservatives.
Naturally, there’s a decent beer selection at Eva’s with lager and pilsner on tap to wash down your wurst. And if you’re not starved for a full meal but want a snack with that stein anytime after 4 pm, go for the big and chewy, soft and twisty pretzel with mustard butter. But be warned: it’s addictive.
Breakfast is an important meal in Germany. There’s a German saying: Iss dein Frühstück wie ein Kaiser (eat your breakfast like a king), which at Eva’s refers to brunch; it will soon open for lunch as well.
Some items on the dinner menu are featured with a twist, such as schnitzel hollandaise and cured trout Benny with a mouth-watering sauerkraut pancake—hold the bread.
The space itself is like the menu: small and unpretentious with a low-key vibe, whimsical décor with a nod to a ski chalet and just enough kitsch on the walls.
You’ve got to hand it to anyone opening a restaurant during the pandemic. Added to the fray, German food sometimes gets a bad rap, often perceived as heavy and stodgy: boiled sausages and potatoes and cabbage covered in cream and served by round men wearing lederhosen in beer halls. Austrian cuisine fares better perception-wise: considered more spa-like and sophisticated.
But when Victoria’s Rathskeller Schnitzel House said auf wiedersehen after half a century, there wasn’t much else in the city serving schnitzels and steins, and people crave comfort food in stressful times.
Chef Maxime, who previously helmed the kitchen at the award-winning Agrius, saw an opportunity. However, he says, it was nerve-wracking opening in November 2021 because nobody knew if the pandemic would get worse.
“At the same time, people wanted to experience something new, although we aren’t re-inventing the wheel. Sure, I have doubts sometimes when I wake up, but after a few beers they fade away, and questioning yourself is part of the learning experience,” he said, laughing. “As well, restaurant restrictions were lifting, so we had a bit of momentum right off the bat—it was like a slow opening and now we are ready for a busy summer.”
Maxime chose not to deliver or offer take-out because “schnitzel doesn’t travel well.” Comfort food is a source of hearty, warming pleasure year-round and that is something you’ll find at Eva Schnitzelhaus.