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The end of schnitzel

In a small town like Woodbine, you can count on a few things never changing. Directions are given using the grain elevator as a landmark. Independence Day is celebrated with fireworks that can be seen 10 miles away. And, Brigitte Wendell will still be wearing her white apron and giving out-of-town diners guff at Brigitte's Country Café in the teal blue building off Kansas Highway 209.

But, time changes things.

After 25 years, the good people of Woodbine have said goodbye to Brigitte's Café.

No more cheeseburger and curly fries specials during harvest. No more Sunday German lunches with out-of-town family. No more morning coffee commentators and afternoon apple pie summits.

I guess life will go on, but it sure won't be as spicy.

Brigitte and Max Wendell, the proprietors of the café, are just as famous as Brigitte's schnitzel. And, in a community of Germans, that's pretty famous.

Sure, her food was great diner fare, but what made the café such an institution was Brigitte's German attitude. Ornery doesn't do it justice.

This is a woman who used to come out from the kitchen and give me a hard time for not eating the tomatoes and onions she sent out with my hamburger. Usually emphasizing her point with a carving knife and her German accent--"I buy good tomatoes! Why don't you eat those tomatoes? You eat those tomatoes and you can have pie."

Or, there was the summer when a road crew of big, burly, bearded men were re-surfacing the highway through town and made Brigitte's their lunch spot. One gentleman was a particularly mouthy individual and would give Brigitte guff over everything. She solved it one day by shoving a whole pie in his face--beard and all.

Of course, it's of local debate whether it was a coconut or chocolate cream pie.

But, the best times were when outsiders would wander into the café looking for a bite to eat. You could tell they weren't regulars by their shell-shocked expressions at the kitschy decor--the centerpiece of which was a mounted deer head sporting a seed cap and cigarette in its mouth. The waitress would usually have to hunt up a dusty menu, and the outsider would ask for a substitution in their order. This would in turn bring Brigitte out to the dining room from the little kitchen to tell them, "This isn't Burger King, you can't have it your way."

Amazingly, though, no one ever walked out of Brigitte's a stranger--or hungry.

Behind that German attitude was also a great big German heart. Brigitte's was the hub of our community. The Lions used her "formal room" as their meeting spot. And, most families held their bridal, baby and golden anniversary parties there, too. It was also the best spot to hear what was happening in the community.

Come to think of it, I may be the reporter I am today because I spent so much time at a table in Brigitte's.

Sundays, though, were the days Brigitte would shine--back when she still served on Sundays. German food was the only option on the menu, and the smells from that kitchen would make your mouth water as soon as you opened the door. It was the only day of the week you needed reservations, and even her back room would fill with area families bringing their out-of-town guests in for lunch. It's because of those Sundays that Brigitte's schnitzel is my standard of measurement for all other German food.

No one can fault Brigitte and Max for wanting to retire, though. Small town cafes aren't exactly the best financial investment in these days of drive-thrus and delivery. And, everything must change, as time goes by, I know.

But, here's hoping I can talk her out of her schnitzel recipe.

There are just some things that should stay the same.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-338-5534, or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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