Let’s get right to the point: Wunderhaus provides an absolutely stellar, fun and delicious dining experience. Brother-and-sister team Auguste Forrester and Jacqueline Smith, along with their respective spouses, have carved a niche in downtown Conway, serving up Eastern European dishes out of an old gas station at the corner of Oak and Locust streets. The decor is simple yet homey, all of a piece with the ethos of the place itself, which includes cooking with locally sourced ingredients.
Furnishings were put together from local flea markets and thrift stores. A hodgepodge of old chairs surrounds odd-shaped tables. The dinnerware, purchased through a neighboring church, once belonged to a former president of the University of Central Arkansas. It’s cozy without feeling crowded. The exposed ceilings give the impression of more space.
“The decor is indicative of the way the business has come together,” Smith says. “The space that we’re in dictated what we could do. It’s a little gas station. But we wanted some warmth in here. There’s natural wood, softer lighting.”
Smith, who Forrester calls the brains behind the menu, was a server at the dearly departed Little Rock eatery Natchez. Wunderhaus buys its meats from Rabbitt Ridge Farms in Bee Branch, a family operation that raises “cattle and hogs the way your grandpa used to.” Herbs and vegetables come from New South Produce Cooperative and local farmers markets.
The menu is a reflection of what’s in season, changing week to week. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to order the Herta Huewer ($10). Grilled, sliced bratwurst and caramelized onions are served in a sweet curry tomato sauce that is mouth-watering and spirit lifting. Adding an Indian touch to a German staple you’ve had a hundred times is inspired.
The wine list is efficient and thoughtful. The beer list is solid — we tried a pair of rich Dunkels — though pricey for some of the bigger imported bottles. Everything seemed to pair nicely with the Vlad Poutine ($12). Instead of french fries, the base of this version was made up of roasted (then griddled, then roasted again) potatoes. Slow-braised pulled pork, with minimal seasoning, comes in hearty chunks. A beer, sharp cheddar, and cream sauce (that would be hard to do any better) as well as brown onion gravy is served on top.
“The pigs we buy have a great diet and to us they just taste better and we don’t have to do too much to it,” Smith says. This was a table favorite and hopefully one they can source more often than not.
The Mary Robinson ($22) was another inventive dish, an Irish-inspired take on chicken and dumplings. Everybody at our table that stuck a fork in raved about it. Think of a really hearty chicken stew, with chopped carrots and slow-cooked shredded chicken. The dumplings were hand-rolled, giving them a dense consistency. Boring they were not. A healthy dose of herbs and seasoning gave them a great punch. It’s a comforting, filling dish that could’ve easily fed two.
The Wild Rover ($21) was another winner. It’s a braised short rib with cabbage and a beautiful sauce of green onion, celery and a touch of cream. It’s served on a bed of golden rice and topped with a few clumps of feta. The rib was outstanding; tender, flavorful, and braised in red wine until it had a firm flavorful crust. It pulled off the bone nicely into big, tasty chunks. The cabbage was chopped into little ribbons, nicely cooked, but not overdone. Its bit of crunch helped offset some of the sticky softness of the rice and the richness of the meat.
As we finished off our beers and the crowd dissipated, Forrester came by to make sure everything was to our liking and invite us back for an event Wunderbus would be hosting as part of Toad Suck Daze. You get the feeling the owners take a great deal of pride in what they’ve created here. The atmosphere is inviting and the staff is well trained and knowledgeable. You may go for the food, and you should, but that’s just part of it. You’ll leave feeling like you’ve just been part of someone else’s world where everything inside is well thought out, crafted and curated.
Wunderhaus900 Locust St. Conway501-358-6806Wunderhausconway.comQuick biteDon’t sleep on the desserts. Smith says she’s not a fan of the “overly sweet,” and you can taste that in the pies. The Nutella pie ($7) is made with a good dose of cocoa powder to add a little bitterness to the sweet hazelnut spread. It’s topped with whipped cream and ganache. The crust is made of gluten-free cookies. If that wasn’t enough, the Baileys pie ($7) really stuns. It’s a simple mix of a Baileys reduction and cream cheese on top of a German shortbread crust. This was the favorite at our table despite stiff competition.Hours11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.Other infoBeer and wine served.