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One Woman's Opinion



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Say Eckhard’s and smile

Urbanna, Va.— Middlesex County has a number of outstanding businesses and Eckhard’s Restaurant in Topping is one of them. This dining establishment rates five stars in my book.

The restaurant was opened 15 years ago by Eckhard and Bruni Thalwitz who already had a German restaurant in Charlottesville. They operated it for about five years, serving very fine German cuisine before finally closing. It so happened that Robie Bradwick and Donald Marvin were visiting in the area from Rochester, New York, and upon discovering the great opportunity waiting for them, decided to purchase the restaurant.

Presto. Restaurant reopens with old name but new ownership. Robie and Donald had the perfect formula for success. The usual three rules for success prevailed: hard work, long hours and obsessive attention to detail. Such devotion from both owners and employees is required before a business can become a big success.

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by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Robie, naturally effervescent, had the perfect personality to make instant friends of her customers. She not only greets everyone who comes in the door, she hugs them. She will already have menus at the table, she knows where you like to sit and whom you like to take care of you. And most important of all, sometime during the evening she will come to your table and ask, “How are your dinners?” This question is such an important factor to a successful restaurant one wonders why it is so very rarely heard.

Chef Donald, the other half of the team, came to Eckhard’s with 21 years of restaurant experience, including 18 years as chef. “I started working in a restaurant when I was 15 years old going to work after school,” he said.

Eckhard Thalwitz taught him his German specialties such as Wiener and Zigeuner Schnitzel and Rheinischer Sauerbraten so that he could continue to offer the same delicious dishes. To this menu he added his own Italian specialties such as Linguine with Clam Sauce, Neptune Fettuccini, Manicotti and Penne Pasta made with fresh Marinara Sauce.
On top of traditional dinners, Donald offers Black Angus beef and fresh seafood specials each night. But served on Friday and Saturday nights is his real “piece de resistance”—steamboat round of beef au jus, the best in 10 counties.

It is a challenge to operate an outstanding restaurant. Two basic problems are keeping good employees and knowing how to order just the right amount of food needed each night. “On Wednesday night I made 11 dinners,” Donald reported. “On Thursday night I made 33 dinners, and then on Friday and Saturday nights we had so many customers we had to turn people away.”

Donald and Robie never open the restaurant if they are not both there to manage every detail. They are both perfectionists and put their diners first. Robie plays relaxing background music. My favorite is the Friday night Frank Sinatra and it is never too loud. The shades against the setting sun in the western sky are always perfectly adjusted, and in cold weather there is always a blazing fire.

Dean Hale takes care of our table. He has perfected the art of his profession as has all the staff. Never obtrusive, always carefully attentive to every detail, Dean is committed to making sure the meal and evening are perfect in every way.

Chip and I usually drag in on a Friday night tired to the bone. But the moment we sink into chairs at our candlelit table covered with lovely white linen, we can relax and forget all cares. Dinner at Eckhard’s becomes therapy that a visit to the doctor can never equal.

Try the roast beef, medium (pink) and take home what you can’t finish for another meal. Order salad with the house dressing. If you have any room for dessert, try the home made chocolate cake with ganache or the Bavarian nut ball ice cream with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a cherry. Beware of the “Heidi sundae,” which is wonderfully sinful with its additives of Kahlua, Amaretto, and Bailey’s Irish cream brandy.

What does it take to create such perfection? Donald works 70 hours over 5 days every week in the year outside of an annual two-week vacation. This year he and Robie went to Maine for a well-earned rest. The first day back on the job they not only had a full house, they also had a private dinner party of 40 in the back room. But the evening went off without a hitch.

Bravo and congratulations! ©2009
http://www.marywakefieldbuxton.com

Mary Wakefield Buxton’s new book, “Middlesex Memories,” is now available at the Southside Sentinel, Middlesex County Museum in Saluda and area book stores.

posted 11.12.2009

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