For a surprisingly authentic European dining experience in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia, look no further than Bodensee Restaurant in Helen.
Location: 64 Munich Strasse (Street), Helen, Georgia
Menu: Just saying words such as “schnitzel,” “spaetzle,” “goulash” and “schweinebraten” will put a smile on your face, but sampling those dishes, prepared by a master German chef, will cause you to break out into a wide, toothy grin.
All of the typical favorites are included in Bodensee’s menu, along with several north Georgia specialties that have been modified with Bavarian flavors. Appetizers include potato pancakes and jumbo pretzels, but you’ll also see smoked whole mountain trout, for instance.
Eye of round beef and grilled pork tenderloin are listed as tafelspitz and holzfaellersteak, but the explanations in tantalizing English will set your mind at ease. Schnitzel is available in both pork and veal varieties, and a wurst sampler platter includes knockwurst, garlicwurst, and weisswurst.
Possibly the best way to get the full experience is to order the sampler platter, which includes five meats and four sides — spaetzle, sauerkraut, red cabbage, and German potato salad. It is described as being “for two,” but three or more would have plenty, I guarantee.
All of the dishes are made in house, and several, such as the sauerbraten are time-intensive. It marinates for four to five days before it’s served.
By all means, you will want to end your meal with a warm, freshly-baked apple strudel. You are in Germany, after all. At least for a few hours.
Thoughts: Chef Aurel Prodan and his wife Doina arrived in Helen, Georgia, by way of Romania, Bavaria, and Baden-Wuerttemberg. Chef Aurel studied Hotel and Restaurant Management in Romania, but he became a well-respected Master Chef while they lived in Germany. Doina oversees the restaurant’s staff and ambiance while serving as a gracious hostess. Their daughter bakes the wonderful desserts and their son-in-law assists in the kitchen. Doina grows many of the herbs in her own garden, and shipments of coveted spices come from Germany regularly.
Bodensee has been open for seven years, but the Prodans have been in the restaurant business for 42 years. They know what they are doing.
Doina has carefully trained her waitstaff about keeping the diners happy with fresh drinks and all they need for a wonderful meal, but no diner ever feels rushed. For the crew of Bodensee, how long you sit at a table is completely up to you. They feel that enjoying conversation with your friends is as important as savoring the food. Stay for hours, if you wish. The servers will not pick up any plates until the last person at the table puts down his/her fork. They don’t accept reservations, so be sure to arrive early or be prepared to wait. It will be worth it.
You’ll be fortunate indeed if Doina stops by your table for a chat. She’s full of delightful phrases and advice. For example, she describes the trout with dill sauce as so good it “will make a jackrabbit slap a grizzly bear.” She also recommends that her diners drink sauerkraut juice. “Drink the sauerkraut juice. You’ll never have another cold.”
Bodensee is the German name for one of the Prodans’ favorite spots in the world, Lake Constance, which is on the Rhine River at the foot of the Alps. A painted mural at the entrance depicts the gorgeous setting.
Helen has one of the longest Oktoberfests in the United States. It starts after Labor Day and runs on weekends in September and every day in October. Bodensee would be a special treat to enhance your visit when you go for that celebration. But, actually, any time of year is a good one for this warm, delicious experience.
Price range: Soups are $5.95. Appetizers range from $8.95-12.95. German specials are $16.95-19.95, while platters for two (or more) are $35.95-49.95.