Restaurants have friendly rivalry over sauerkraut balls
They are competing for one prize: bragging rights over who has the best sauerkraut ball in the neighborhood.
"I know who's got the better ones: I know we got them," said Susan Gall, owner of the Hey Hey Bar & Grill on East Whittier Street.
Geoff Schmidt, a partner of Schmidt's Sausage Haus on East Kossuth Street, has a different take on the situation.
"The big difference: It's made with Schmidt's bratwurst. And a sauerkraut ball without Schmidt's bratwurst is not a real sauerkraut ball," he said.
The two restaurants (Hey Hey is technically in Schumacher Place) started serving the golden-fried orbs about 20 years ago. At both, the briny rounds are hand-formed (Gall uses a crumbled sausage, too) and deep-fried to a golden brown. Hey Hey serves orders (four for $5, 10 for $10) with grated horseradish, sometimes imbued with beets, while Schmidt's delivers them with a house-made brown mustard-mayo dipping sauce.
Schmidt said the sauerkraut balls are one of two appetizers on the menu, the other being pretzel nuggets. He said he serves about 5,000 pieces, or 400 orders, a week. A serving of eight golf-ball-sized spheres is $5.95.
Customer John Dale can't say enough good things about his favorite appetizer at Schmidt's.
"I get it at least once a month," he said. "It's the perfect start to a great meal at Schmidt's."
Jason D. Williams falls into the Hey Hey camp. The Nashville resident's band frequently plays at the Hey Hey and calls the experience "the greatest pairing of music and food in the tri-state area."
"When we get to Cincinnati we start licking our chops for Sue's sauerkraut balls," he said.
Gall said she sells about 5,000 pieces per week. On the Ohio Oktoberfest circuit, she sells about 10,000 pieces at each festival. She's so confident in the product, she hopes to start a sauerkraut ball factory at the Columbus Maennerchor, which she recently started leasing.
Food wars are nothing new to neighborhoods across America. In Philly, there's Geno's v. Pat's. Even in Columbus, a relatively new battle pits Five Guys Burgers and Fries against homegrown Graffiti Burger.
The difference, Gall and Schmidt say, is that Hey Hey and Schmidt's have a friendly rivalry. In fact, every Columbus Oktoberfest, Gall stores her sauerkraut balls in the Schmidt's truck because she doesn't have enough room at the Hey Hey.
Even so, neither restaurateur would shy away from a challenge.
"I would love it because I know mine are No. 1 for sure," Gall said.
Says Schmidt: "Schmidt's is often challenged, seldom beaten."