Walking into this unassuming restaurant at the north end of Galena’s Main Street is like stepping into a French bistro. French music plays in the background as servers in black vests, white shirts and black aprons move from table to table with plates of German and French food. Alsatian food to be exact – dishes with a French/German influence – hence their motto, “a little German, a little French, a little bistro.”
Owner Fred Grzeslo is Polish and wife Karyn is half German. Both are trained in French cuisine, and the foods and sauces they prepare are those they grew up eating. Many dishes they serve are from their grandmothers’ recipes.
Originally from Chicago, the Grzeslos fell in love with the Galena area. Both professionally trained chefs say the Galena community has embraced them.
“When we first opened, we had an accordion player with oompah, pah music, and they hated it,” Fred says laughing. “They like the French music and ambiance but want the [German] schnitzel and sauerbraten [marinated beef roast] and drink the French wine. After 13 years of listening to people, you learn to give them what they want.”
The most popular menu item is the schweineschnitzel, a pork version of the traditional wienerschnitzel (veal). The pork cutlets are pounded thin, breaded and served with spaetzle, a German dumpling.
“All you hear on a busy Saturday night is pounding from the kitchen because everyone is ordering it,” explains Fred. “I think it’s common and likely their [patrons’] first time in an Alsatian bistro. If you look at the menu, there are words most people don’t know. Schnitzel is a nice intro. They try it, they love it and we get them back in to try other things.”
Lovers of French food will enjoy Fred’s steak frites [marinated hanger steak served medium-rare] or poulet roti [garlic roasted chicken]. The menu stays static except for the occasional special. In July, they started doing a pork shank which Fred says was “flying out of here” and has been added to the menu. During the slow season [winter], they try doing a French and a German entrée special and appetizer to see how they are received.
The menu is 50 percent French and 50 percent German. Ingredients for the schnitzel and sauerbraten are easy to source, but others are not. It’s not uncommon for them to wait three to four weeks for items to arrive such as rabbit sausage used in cassoulet, a slow-cooked bean casserole with lamb, duck confit and sausage.
Fred drives to Chicago every couple of months to pick up those hard to find ingredients such as authentic sausages used in the choucroute garnie, a French dish made with knackwurst, bratwurst, kielbasa and smoked butt with sauerkraut and potatoes. They often tweak recipes to make them more French or German.
One challenge is the bistro’s location. Located at the north end of Main Street, visitors often get to Franklin Street [cross street] and think there is nothing farther north.
“I was warned that we would never make it, that nothing lasts up here,” says Fred. “We have gotten good enough and become known as a destination by Trip Advisor, and people are coming.”
Fritz and Frites is the oldest business on the block.
“The best part of this job is the customers. We get people that are so friendly and excited to come in,” Fred adds. “I come out [of the kitchen] and say hello to everybody. On a busy Saturday night, the tables are all talking to each other and it’s a lot of fun.”
The bistro is small with seating for less than 50; a party of six is the maximum.
“Recurring customers are our biggest success,” says Fred. “We have people that come in all the time – maybe twice a month, which for a restaurant like this is incredible. Some of our servers have gone on to do bigger and better things and some come back and ask to work weekends. It’s been a nice bond between the locals and our employees.”
The bistro carries more than 100 varieties of German and Belgium beer, and Karyn has carefully chosen a wide range of French and German wines which pair well with menu items.
She is also responsible for a variety of desserts. As would be expected, the bistro has a German chocolate cake. They order authentic apple streudel from Germany and purchase profiterole [cream puffs] from a bakery in Paris, which they stuff with vanilla ice cream and top with chocolate ganache.
One of Karyn’s specialties, an employee favorite, is prunes stewed in Armagnac [a distinctive brandy produced in southwest France], lemon peel, and cinnamon stick and topped with cinnamon ice cream. (Stewed fruits are a common Alsatian dessert.) She also makes a flourless Black Forest cake with a cherry reduction and whipped cream. The toughest decision will be which one to try.
Take a trip to Galena, enjoy Main Street and all it has to offer, but be sure to stroll north of Franklin Street to Fritz and Frites. It’s a little German, a little French, a little bistro…and well worth the visit.
Fritz and Frites
317 N. Main Street, Galena, IL
Tuesday-Thursday 4 – 8 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 4 – 9 p.m.
Sunday 4 – 8 p.m.