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Rita Hoff fashions German meat pockets called fleish kuchle at the Open Door.
Rita Hoff fashions German meat pockets called fleish kuchle at the Open Door.
To form fleish kuchle, fold a square of rolled dough in half around the hamburger filling.
To form fleish kuchle, fold a square of rolled dough in half around the hamburger filling.
German food lovers gather on Tuesdays in Menno to enjoy fleish kuchle.
German food lovers gather on Tuesdays in Menno to enjoy fleish kuchle.

Menno's Open Door

 

Bored with the homogenization of America’s restaurants? You’ll find culinary and cultural relief at the Open Door in Menno, where Rita Hoff has been serving German and farm country specialties since 1986.

Menno, a town of 780 in Hutchinson County, was settled by Germans from Russia. “We started getting requests for the foods we all grew up with,” Hoff explained. “Fleish kuchle is the favorite. It’s a big day when we serve it. I don’t think there is anybody who doesn’t show up.”

Hoff’s Tuesday menu always includes one or more German dishes. She bakes kuchen and donuts on Thursdays and serves a big buffet for the after-church crowd on Sundays. She and her husband, Jerome, alternate every Sunday: one goes to church and the other sets out the buffet.

The Open Door is a success story, but it would be hard to duplicate the décor or the entrees. A dry erase board of customers’ birthdays, recipe cards, a WNAX gas station sign, historic photos of Menno and an eclectic coffee cup collection that advertises current and long-gone local businesses all add atmosphere, but they’re just frosting on the cake.

The food is the essence of the Open Door. This is not a frozen-fries-and-burgers grill. Hoff makes each dish from scratch, and summer produce comes from local gardens. “One week we got a whole box of beans that didn’t sell at the farmer’s market,” she said. “It helps with expenses and it gives everybody a chance to eat fresh food.” She seems apologetic when she acknowledges she occasionally has to open a can of vegetables, or that she has been tempted to buy pre-made foods like most restaurants depend on these days.

“One time a salesman talked me into buying ready-made stuff,” she said. “Man, people noticed right away. They said, ‘You didn’t make your own macaroni salad.’ So I can’t do that anymore.”

Running a small town restaurant seven days a week is a challenge — even with donated green beans and plenty of happy diners. But Rita Hoff has good help, from her husband, Jerome, a county commissioner and a school bus driver, and several part time workers.

Rita and Jerome close the Open Door after the Sunday buffet and enjoy an afternoon to themselves. They often make a trip to visit their children in Brandon and Tea, and usually end up at a restaurant. We wondered whether the prepared foods were a disappointment. “If I can sit down and have someone wait on me I’m not real particular,” she laughed. 


  

Rita’s Fleish Kuchle

 

Rita has been running the Open Door for over 25 years and said this is the perennial favorite dish. “It’s also the easiest to make,” she said. “You kind of enjoy making it more because they like it more.”

Her advice for first time fleish kuchle makers is to not use all the flour right away. “The dough will get tough,” she says. “Sometimes it takes a lot of practice with the dough to get it right.” 

Dough:

1 stick margarine
1 cup warm milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 cups flour — don’t add all

Melt margarine and cool. Add milk, baking power, salt and egg. Mix. Add flour (save 1/2 cup for working the dough).

Filling:

4 pounds hamburger
Salt, pepper, chopped onion and seasoning salt to taste.

Mix meat mixture together after adding spices to taste. Roll out dough to thickness of pie dough. Cut into 4”x 4” squares. Put one heaping tablespoon of hamburger filling in center. Fold in half. Cut edges to seal. Fry at 350 degrees for 7 minutes.

 

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the September/October 2011 issue of  South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.



Comments

07:23 pm - Tue, March 19 2013
Vivian Miller nee Ott said:
I was born in Menno in 1928, my parents came from Russia around 1912. My father died in 1930. There were five children. In 1942, we moved to Wisconsin. I have never eaten Fleish Kuchle. Some years ago, a cousin of mine from Menno sent me a recipe which she made but I never tried it because I didn't know what they should look like. Now, I see your picture of them and get a better idea of how they should be. I'm sure I would like them. Just this past week, my oldest daughter, who lives in Louisville, KY sent me an email showing a batch of Plachinda that she had made with her son. My mother made them quite often. This daughter is the one who sent me the Germans from Russia link which I am enjoying more and more..
08:04 am - Fri, April 5 2013
Bernie said:
If Rita's restaurant was in NYC or LA she would be the biggest star chef in the city, but I'm glad she's here in SD. Those Fleish KUchle's are worth driving 100 miles for, and they are only one of her treats.
08:05 pm - Wed, August 7 2013
Gwen Schock Cowherd said:
If you are interested in Germans from Russia Foodways, check out this Facebook Community page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Germans-from-Russia-Foodways/559088334124505

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