From the age of 3 until I was 8 years old, I lived in Germany due to my father having 3 consecutive postings there with the British Army. Being so young, I didn’t exactly explore the culinary scene but I do have a few memories of our time there! When I found out that there was a German restaurant here in Petersburg, and that folks were raving about it, I just had to go and try it myself. Along with my friends Silvia (who is originally from Germany) and Heather, we headed down there for dinner on a Friday night. We had made a reservation, which is recommended by the way.
Sometimes a restaurant just surprises you in the most wonderful way. Franken Stube is housed in a building attached to a Shell gas station just off I-95. An interesting location to say the least! When you open the door, you enter into the most delightful, simple café adorned with red and white checked table cloths and curtains, along with German flags and mementos clearly belonging to the owner. There’s even a little market section with a variety of food imported from Germany.
We were warmly greeted by Andrea and shown to our table. She was busy but fetched us some beer and wine (it’s all German here) while we perused the menu. So, let me start by saying that this is the kind of place where you feel like you are in someone’s home and, as a guest, you need to treat is as such. As the restaurant was busy, Andrea was too, so we reassured her that we were perfectly happy to sip on our drinks while she tended to the other guests before taking our orders. With all the delicious classic dishes to choose from, we needed time to decide anyway! Silvia opted for a classic Weiner Schnitzel with Potato Salad and Cucumber Salad. I chose the Sauerbraten with Red Cabbage and Spaetzle and Heather went for the Gulasch, served over Spaetzle. All were delicious! It really did feel like we were having a lovely home-cooked meal in someone’s house.
When owner Irene Williams can take a break from cooking, she comes out to talk to the customers. She is delightful, and an inspiration to all. If ever you are wondering about starting over and second chances, she is a shining example showing that anything is possible at any stage in life. A dozen or so years ago, she married Freddie, her second husband, whom she proudly lets you know, is a retired Marine and Vietnam Veteran. She told us that he wanted to make her dreams come true by helping her open up a restaurant. She is in her sixties. She could be just enjoying retired life with her husband but instead, she is fulfilling her dream and sharing her amazing talents with us all. I got OUT of the restaurant business at 40! I’m in awe of her!
When we asked her why she wanted to do this and how she got her love of cooking, she explained that growing up she was the oldest girl of 6 children and, with 2 working parents and 3 hungry brothers, she needed to learn how to cook! She has always loved to cook and thought she would like to have a restaurant one day. She first opened Franken Stube in Emporia and while very popular, she ultimately decided to move it further north towards Petersburg. She still lives in Emporia but says that the 30 minute drive home is her wind-down time. Does she go straight to bed? No…. she bakes! Interestingly she told us that her classic Apple Streudel and Black Forest Cake have become very popular with diabetic customers. As with a lot of European desserts, there is a lot less sugar in them than American style desserts. Her streudel contains NO sugar – just apples, cinnamon and vanilla. The only sugar is the confectioner’s sugar sprinkled on top. The cake contains only about 4 tablespoons of sugar in the ENTIRE cake, with the fruit and the cocoa powder providing the sweetness. Both were fabulous.
Irene was very pleased to be able to chat away to Silvia in German and they compared stories. Both came here to the States by marrying American soldiers who were serving in Germany. She was very keen to get Silvia’s opinion about the food and they had a fairly long talk about the schnitzel which Irene explained was thinner than it should typically be, because she was unable to get the right cut from her supplier. This is a woman who really cares about and loves what she’s doing. You can just tell that she so enjoys sharing her passion for her native cuisine with her many customers. We ended up spending 3 hours there chatting and just enjoying the place. We all got a bit teary eyed hearing her story and after describing her husband Freddie, we asked where he was, and he was immediately brought out to meet us! What a lovely couple, providing us with a unique dining experience that feels like you are in someone’s home. But in a gas station just off I-95. If you haven’t tried it, go experience it for yourself. I hope you feel the same warmth and welcome and that you love the German homecooked food as much as we did. Thank you, Irene, for never giving up on your dream. Wunderbar indeed!
Franken Stube is located at 328 Rives Rd, Petersburg, VA 23805 (804) 805-2482
It is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Check their Facebook Page for more details.