Deeter’s: A Taste of Europe
In his trademark thick, European accent, Alex Camen talks about his restaurant with all the passion of someone just starting out in the business.
But in fact, his Woodstock restaurant, Deeter’s (15105 Northwest Hwy.), is in its 26th year of offering European cuisine. Best known for its authentic German specialties like wienerschnitzel and jaeger roast braten, the restaurant was a hit with customers from day one, said Camen, who owns the business with his wife Nadine.
“It took off right away because it’s a specialty restaurant,” Camen said, sitting in his back office lined with paperwork and tokens of his Swiss roots – like a pair of lederhosen he wears during his Oktoberfest celebration. “There [are] no German restaurants left.”
Moving to Woodstock from Switzerland in 1983 – after an apprenticeship as a chef and serving as head chef in the Swiss Army – Camen took a job as chef at Deeter’s, which had just been opened by German immigrant Dieter Reinke.
After eight years of working for Reinke, Camen became a partner, then bought the business in 1996. “I’m really pleased, really happy,” he said of the restaurant’s success.
‘A Little Out of The Way’
A sign in Deeter’s entrance reads: “If We Weren’t a Little Out of the Way, We Couldn’t Be So Out of the Ordinary.”
The sign – nestled just beyond the rush of Route 14 traffic as you’re headed out of Woodstock toward Harvard – is visible from the road. Sometimes that’s enough to draw people in, Camen said.
“People say, ‘We’ve driven by here so many times and we’ve always wanted to stop here and never did until now,’” he said. “We draw them all the way from Arlington Heights and Rockford.”
Typically, guests are surprised with the variety of authentic European dishes not usually found in this area. With Swiss, Italian, French, German and American dishes on the menu, the restaurant’s two chefs, together with Camen, are ready to prepare dishes like chicken or pork schnitzel, Bohemian duck, Swiss geschnetzeltes and Norwegian salmon.
Chef Tony Alozola has worked at Deeter’s for 20 years, Camen said, joking that he’s never allowed to leave. And of course, Camen said, he is always lending a hand in the kitchen.
“My passion is still in the kitchen,” he said. “I love to cook at home and here.’”
A 25th anniversary special served all year is a filet served with a puff pastry stuffed with lobster meat and hollandaise sauce for $25.
It’s a huge hit, Carmen said, adding, “We’re still celebrating the whole year.”
House specialties include filet goulash, fresh oysters, blackened salmon and horseradish-crusted salmon – a dish suggested by a customer. A guest who didn’t want his fish spicy asked, “Can you just put some horseradish on the top and broil it?” Camen recalled.
Aiming to please, he made it – and a little extra for himself. “I tried it and it was incredible,” Camen said.
Now he offers a salmon duo – half blackened and half horseradish-crusted.
All in the Family
Requests for food aren’t the only ones made by customers. Often, they want a particular waitress, Camen said, adding that the wait staff knows many customers’ names and their favorite food and drink.
Ten full-time and five part-time waitresses along with a six-member bus staff keep the restaurant moving.
The staff is all in the family, with Nadine working as a hostess on weekends and the couple’s daughter Alexis heading up the bus staff. Among the staff, there are three generations of one family working there – a grandma, mom and daughter, Camen said.
Aside from the dining room, two bar areas draw in customers.
“We go through a lot of beer,” Camen said. “That’s what we’re known for.”
Sauerbraten and Yodeling
A beer garden and outdoor patio provide additional seating, with a banquet room seating up to 250 guests – ideal for weddings.
In September, customers flock to the restaurant to get a taste of a true Oktoberfest celebration. The event includes a special menu and live music played every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night all month.
German students at Woodstock High School get their own mini Oktoberfest celebration on the front lawn of the school, thanks to Camen, who provides brats, kegs of root beer and German music.
Deeter’s Oktoberfest will be longer than usual in 2009. “There are five weekends this year,’’ Camen said, adding there’s no cover charge for the entertainment – but there will be plenty of yodeling.