Haflinger Haus: Horses, antiques and Austrian fare all under one roof

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ADAMS — To paraphrase an often-asked question, which came first: the Haflingers or the haus?

For Don Sommer — owner of the Haflinger Haus at 17 Commercial St., and longtime Adams businessman and official — it was the horses. Although, he has owned horses for some 60 years, he fell in love with Austrian Haflingers at the Northampton Fair 20 years ago. "I saw a team of Haflingers and I had to have them," he said.

Now the owner of four of the horses, two of them classified as silver, — there are three classifications: gold, silver and blue — he frequently travels to Austria and is one of only two Americans on the board of directors of the World Federation of Haflingers. Two of his horses were born in Austria and shipped to Adams at 7 months old.

"At that time, there were two good stallions in the United States," Sommer said. "Now, there are 10. I had to get good blood-lined mares for breeding." He added his mares have produced three Haflinger foals.

Sommer carries his passion for Haflingers into the cozy Austrian restaurant he opened in 2011.

"It was a spur of the moment decision to buy it," he said. "It was in foreclosure. I saw the banker and asked 'How much do you want?' We closed on it in 20 days. My wife almost left me when I told her," he joked.

The home was built by the Noble family in 1908 (Mr. Noble was an attorney for the LL Brown Paper Co., which was located across the street from the home). After the Nobles moved out, the house was purchased by a group of doctors and run as a nursing home. Sommer explained a woman from Boston purchased the building 15 years ago and operated it as an inn. The inn closed after about three years and was then owned by the Harrington family, who ran it for three years, before it closed.

"I spent about $100,000 renovating the house," Sommer said. "I've put in a new heating and water systems, renovated the wood floors, added new kitchen equipment and extended the bar area. I also bought a lot of antiques " he said, sweeping a hand in the air toward some of his finds.

Sommer's antique treasures are on display in the restaurant, including two carousel horses, one that was on a carousel in Illinois; the second from parts unknown. He proudly points out his new wait station, "not what it was designed for, but it works great" and a large hutch with stained glass doors that sits opposite the wait station. He makes note of a pair of black chairs with Chinese dragons on the arms, and says, "They don't quite fit with the rest of the decor, but I liked them. They look good here, right?" And, of course, everywhere you look, are Haflinger horses — paintings, photos Sommer took of his Haflingers and wood carvings. Different rooms in the house serve as dining areas, including a few reserved for large groups or special events.

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A large, open staircase leads to six bedrooms upstairs, each with a private bath. "There are antiques in each room, and of course, flat-screen TVs and cable," Sommer said.

The restaurant specializes in Austrian cuisine. "It's different from German cuisine, although a lot of it is the same," Sommer said. "Austrian is a little lighter, there is a lot more veal in Austria and spaetzle is primarily Austrian."

The menu features dishes such as wiener schnitzel, Hungarian goulash made from Sommer's mother's recipe, spaetzle with lobster sauce and schweinshaxe. There are also two different menus, one for the dining room and one for the tavern, although many dishes are available in both dining areas. And for those who are not quite sure if they want Austrian food, there are steaks, chicken Parmesan, Thai shrimp and baked haddock; burgers and fries are offered in the tavern.

"The recipes are mostly from family; they're old family recipes," Sommer said. "My parents are both Austrian; all the family members make the goulash."

"The paprika for the goulash comes from Budapest," Sommer said, adding a friend purchases it and delivers it to him on one of his many trips to Vienna. "Can you imagine someone in the government listening in on our phone conversations?" he asked, chuckling. "Can you get me 10 kilos [the paprika is sold by the kilo]; meet me in Vienna and we'll make the exchange."

Sommer credits renowned chef, Gerhard Schmid for the restaurant's success. Brought in as a consultant and mentor to a "difficult" young chef at the restaurant, he agreed to become the chef for a year after the young chef was let go. "He is an old-time chef and everything has to be made from scratch. He taught our guys how to cook. I'm grateful to him," Sommer said.

Erica Hansen, one of the current chefs, has been in the business for 20 years, although she said it's her first foray into German and Austrian food. "It's rich, it's flavorful and I hope Don takes me to Austria!" She added Sommer has already taken the bar manager and head waiter. "I've learned a lot about Austrian food. Don lets me be as creative as I want and lets me decide the specials." One of her suggestions was adding the Thai shrimp to the menu.

In summer, Sommer said the restaurant grows its own vegetables. "We have an organic garden in the back, where we raise kale, tomatoes, carrots, butternut squash and string beans. People seem to like it. The food comes right out of the garden onto the table."

Also this summer, Sommer is looking to add a bier garden on the lawn and grill on the weekends, saying there had been pig roasts in the past.

As to the future, Sommer said, " I would like to keep going as we are, although I would like to see more local patrons. The restaurant looks expensive, but it's not. We've compared it with other restaurants and we are less expensive. You can come in and have burgers and fries in the tavern."


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