In the Kitchen: House of Mozart is a musical delight

Alfred Schinagl is the owner and chef of House of Mozart on Marco Island.

Photo by JASON EASTERLY // Buy this photo

Alfred Schinagl is the owner and chef of House of Mozart on Marco Island.

House of Mozart

151 S. Barfield, Marco

Here, on Marco Island, we have the House of Mozart Restaurant, which celebrated Mozart’s birthday with a special dinner menu on Jan. 27, 2008, and where Mozart’s music is heard seven days a week while diners enjoy a light lunch or hearty dinner prepared from scratch by Chef Alfred Schinagl.

The House of Mozart is located in the Shops of Marco at 151 S. Barfield Drive, phone: 642-5220.

Your columnist, an avid admirer of Mozart’s music, had no problem with the restaurant’s name but curiosity begged that we ask Chef Alfred if there was a common denominator.

“Why Mozart and not something related to the ethereal Viennese desserts to die for that are home-made on premises by your wife, Manuela?” we inquired, remembering the seductive taste of Manuela’s warm Apple Strudel or even Crepes “Salzburg,” that we enjoyed during another visit.

“Actually,” Chef Alfred replied, “The best known Austrian is Mozart and I am Austrian — it seemed a perfect fit.”

Actually (aside from the dessert thingy), your columnist was hoping to hear that the mannequin dressed in 18th century clothes and sitting at the keyboard of the antique-appearing piano (at the front of the dining room) had historical significance.

Alas, no, but further inquiry determined that several of the violins displayed on the walls were quite old or antique — one from the 1700s, Chef Alfred said, adding that they were given to Manuela by her father, who was an avid collector

of old violins.

That having been said, Chef Alfred Schinagl formerly owned and operated restaurants in Austria.

“I actually owned one in Graz, the same town that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger comes from, and one in Holland earlier,” he said, adding that he sold them in the early ’90s before he and Manuela came to the United States.

“In Miami, we rented a car and drove around, looking for a nice place to settle, and our travels brought us to Southwest Florida and the Gulf coast,” he said. “Like many people before us, we drove up across the Jolley Bridge and upon seeing the Marco Island’s spectacular skyline, our reaction was — wow!”

The Schinagls opened House of Mozart Restaurant in 1993, and since then Chef Alfred has been preparing traditional Austrian (and German, and Italian) specialties for homesick Europeans as well as for diners who appreciate good food no matter its country of origin.

“You know, starting as a young apprentice in Austria is not like it is here. Actually, my grandmother and mother were excellent cooks and that made me interested in working in a kitchen,” he began, explaining how he went to an Austrian county like Collier (resort) to Tirol, a town in the Alps that had the best hotels and good restaurants and started his apprenticeship there.

“It was rough, the executive chef was like God — mistreated us, worked us long hours and we had to share our sleeping room with three or four guys. We learned to make everything from scratch — actually, that’s what I do here — but there if we made a mistake the chef threw raw eggs at us, like a football game,” Chef Alfred related, remembering that sometimes meat was delivered to the kitchen on the hoof — like the time the butcher brought in a little suckling pig. Something startled the animal and it got loose, jumping all over the kitchen, knocking down pots and pans, “Fighting for its life,” Chef said, “It was the only time I ever felt like quitting my job — but actually that’s life — we’re the ones at the top of the food chain!”

That is how it was in those times, Chef Alfred said, “We are the last of those guys, Peter (Marek), myself, even Wolfgang Puck, he went through the same thing. You know, he’s from Kaernten, ) a county in the southern part of Austria, I’m from the eastern part.”

Austria, a neutral country after the war, was a melting pot because it was in the heart of Europe and bordered by Italy, Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany, he said, “And every country speaks a different language, of course. That’s why a lot of good chefs here — one is a sushi or steak chef, another is a seafood chef — where we have to be versatile rather than specialize.”

Simple things (Chef Alfred says they are— they aren’t!) like sauerbraten take several days to prepare, he told me. You marinate a beef round roast for three days in red wine, red wine vinegar, brown sugar and special spices (refrigerated) then take it out of this marinade, pat it dry and sear it to keep in the juices, then roast it in a slow oven for three to four hours until tender.

It’s a lot of preparation and that’s why Chef Alfred is accustomed to making them from scratch. It’s the same with his famous Goulash “Vienna,” described in the menu as cubes of tender top round beef in a tasty Hungarian-paprika sauce, served with spaetzle and red cabbage.

Your columnist refrained from asking Chef Alfred how he makes his spaetzle because (trust me) it would be another “simple thing” like his goulash — a stew that requires a lot of prep and cooking, he admits.

He also offered the possibility that many of his customers become steadies because, “Our customers would prefer that we would take the time to prepare these classic dishes so they could enjoy them here rather than try to cook them at home. Of course, the main ingredient for every chef is the ‘heart,’” he explained, patting his chest for emphasis. “When people remember how good food tasted when cooked by their mother or grandmother — it was because she put her heart in it.”

Chef Alfred said that was his secret and offered this bit of advice to up and coming chefs: “Never restrain yourself from trying different ingredients and you’ll always be successful.”

Chef Alfred confided that he’s still excited about food and looks forward daily to cooking at the House of Mozart.

“If I wake up one day not excited about coming to work — I will quit my job!”

He finds it very rewarding when he sees that customers keep coming back, and even bring friends, who are visiting, to have dinner at the restaurant.

“Of course, many of our customers are second and third generation Marco Island residents, a lot with children, and we saw them grow up and come back married — it’s an ongoing circle of life.”

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