Photos by kc kratt
Many people may not have had the pleasure of enjoying a plate of spaetzle.
Prosit Restaurant Food Truck owners, Janice and Paul Schalu, aim to change that. Plate by plate, they’re introducing Buffalo’s hungry to the culinary legacy they love, a legacy of Polish and German recipes that have been passed down to them. “The families keep these recipes intact,” says Janice. “You keep making it and show it to your children, and they show it to their children. It’s important to transfer these methods.”
One warm afternoon, Janice prepares to demonstrate her spaetzle-making methods inside the trailer she and her husband outfitted for professional cooking. Located adjacent to their Village of Williamsville home, it’s a departure from the sit-down restaurant they ran for a handful of years on Main Street in Williamsville. The new food truck format is much more fun, even “liberating,” says Janice.
Inside the trailer, a rack of spices reaches to the ceiling. A pot of water simmers on an impressive stove. Oil heats in a sturdy skillet. Every last detail in the small space has been meticulously designed to produce delectable dishes. Janice, a grandmother of five with a background in pastry, dips a measuring cup into a bin of flour and dumps it into a mixing bowl.
“Who doesn’t love noodles?” she says, reaching for another scoop of flour. “German, Polish, Italian. My gosh. Everyone has noodles on their menu.” And, while many Western New York restaurants serve noodles, only a select few offer spaetzle, the soft egg noodle whose origins are generally associated with Germany.
Janice cracks five eggs into the mound of flour, then pours in some milk. Stirs. Pours more milk. Stirs. Dashes in some salt. The flour is measured, but everything else is done with the deft ease of someone who has done it a thousand times before and works from instinct as much as memory.
Spaetzle is a noodle that’s endured through the ages. The way you make it today is essentially the same as the way people made it generations ago. Food fads have come and gone, yet the stout spaetzle remains. Comprising just flour, eggs, milk, and salt, its principal ingredients are ones any home cook can easily pull from the pantry. Although the ingredients are simple, getting the right consistency in the dough can be tricky. It should be thick, but not so thick that it cannot pass through the holes of a colander.
“You have to be tough,” says Janice, stirring the thickening dough with the assurance that comes from a woman who has cooked all her life and taught all her children to cook. “Tough it up, get in there, and make it so it’s substantial. Don’t be afraid.”
Janice and her husband do not merely cook food; they bring cuisine from the past to life. As they looked around Buffalo, they saw that the German taverns, once on every street corner, had dwindled nearly to extinction. “It was time to resurrect these old-school recipes,” she says, describing the beginnings of their brick and mortar restaurant in 2007. “We’re trying to keep these beautiful foods in everyone’s eyesight.”
In 2013, the restaurant closed, but the spirit of Prosit remained strong. “We were sitting here at our home staring at each other for over a year,” Jance recalls, “and I said, ‘OK, what are we going to do now?’”
Enter food truck. Prosit Food Truck—open 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, May through December, at 32 North Cayuga Road—represents another resurrection as well as a shift in the way people now enjoy eating. It’s been enthusiastically received, regularly attracting around 100 customers per Saturday. People come with their strollers and dogs, often meandering over from the nearby farmers market, and enjoy affordable al fresco dining.
Now, Janice is pushing the dough through a colander with a bench scraper into the boiling water. A couple of minutes later the small noodles bounce to the surface, indicating they’re cooked. She scoops them with a slotted spoon and lets them drain. Soon they’re crisping in the pan with oil, the final step.
“It’s a little daunting at first,” she admits, turning the noodles, “but once you get used to it, it’s easy.” After five minutes, the noodles are plated and sprinkled with sautéed onions and crumbled blue cheese. When Janice offers the reporter a dish of her finished spaetzle, she cannot resist. Not much is muttered in-between bites except a hallowed, “Wow.”
The whole process, start to finish, takes only about fifteen minutes, but it’s not hard to see that with just the simplest of ingredients and a whole lot of love, something magical has been made.
Janice and Paul Schlau’s spaetzle
3 cups all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Enough whole milk to make a semithick batter
Mix eggs and flour. Add enough milk to make stiff dough. Season with salt, pepper, (or whatever seasoning accompanies your heritage). The dough should be thick but not so thick that it cannot pass through the holes of a colander. (If it’s too thin, the spaetzle will disintegrate. Muscle is the main ingredient.) Using a plastic bench scraper, slowly push the batter through a colander that has large holes into boiling, salted water. When the spaetzle rises to the top of the pot, remove with slotted spoon, or pour into a strainer. Shake off water. Drizzle with a bit of oil to prevent sticking.
Options: Toss in large skillet with a little oil and sear until a bit crispy. Or, put on a grill until crispy. Add chopped, sautéed onions and crumbled blue cheese. Guten Appetit!