Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Don't mess with the best

March 22, 2014 

Maybe you noticed that Thursday was the 20th anniversary of the death of Lewis Grizzard.

Which naturally made me wonder if Waldgaststatte Zum Schutzenhaus is still the best restaurant in the world.

See, when I was a kid in the late 1970s, my brother and I used to spend a week every summer with my Atlanta cousins, so we could attend the Bill Whitlock Basketball Camp at Dekalb Community College.

It seemed like a big deal at the time.

But it was an even bigger deal that, on the way up to Atlanta, my aunt would always stop at Sprayberry's Barbecue in Newnan. We enjoyed the pulled pork and the Spartan dining room and the smell of smoke that lingered on your clothes hours later.

A couple of years ago, my family was passing Newnan on I-85. I'm always more alert than usual along that stretch of interstate because motorists -- or at least me -- seem to have a much greater chance of personally meeting a state trooper there than anywhere else in America.

Anyway, I noticed the Sprayberry's sign, and we stopped there for lunch. It was a new location -- the old restaurant off Jackson Street is apparently still in operation -- but it contained a little shrine to Lewis Grizzard that quoted the legendary humorist's endorsement of Sprayberry's as "merely the best barbecue joint on earth."

Let's just say that Grizzard was certainly qualified to judge pit barbecue, among other things, and I trust his judgment. But the food was not as good as I remembered, and I doubted that Grizzard himself, if he was still with us, would still proclaim it as the earth's best.

This happens sometimes, especially with restaurants. A place becomes the best, word gets around, everybody loves it, and then, often after the founder gives up the ghost, it becomes less than the best.

But it stays popular because there are still enough people passing by who remember it 20 years ago, when it was the best. And also because there are enough people who can't distinguish great food from average food.

Which brings us to Waldgaststatte Zum Schutzenhaus, a restaurant on the outskirts of Mannheim, Germany, where I was stationed in the early 1990s.

It was on a firing range at the end of a dirt road in the middle of a forest. The dining room was decorated with deer heads and hunting trophies.

They served a platter for two that included two fried wienerschnitzels, two jagerschnitzels with mushrooms and brown gravy, two beef rumpsteaks with herbed butter and two sets of spit-roasted pork loin medallions.

Oh, and a bunch of pommes frites, spaetzle dumplings, peas and carrots and rye bread.

To borrow from legendary TV fisherman Bill Dance: "Sonny Jim!"

The platter also came with Black Forest ice cream, but nobody ever had enough room left for it.

My brother flew over from the Naval Academy during spring break of his senior year, ostensibly to do some traveling but actually to team up with me to tackle the Schutzenhaus platter.

Not much suspense there. We handled it with ease, and enjoyed some Weizenbiers in the process. The waiter brought us the bill and my brother glared at him.

"Where's the ice cream?" he said.

"Oh yes, the ice cream," the waiter said, and he headed back into the kitchen.

The dining room, packed with native Germans, cheered. I'm not kidding.

Apparently nobody had ever asked for the ice cream before.

The waiter brought out chocolate cherry ice cream packed in small cardboard tubs -- like the ones served in school cafeterias -- along with a couple of little wooden paddles.

To this day, we still talk about the Schutzenhaus.

So when I thought about Lewis Grizzard this week, I thought about Sprayberry's and then I thought about the Schutzenhaus.

Wonder if it's still the best restaurant on earth.

Contact Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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