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Weinkeller Restaurant | Not Just for German Tastebuds


The Arkansas Wine Trail draws a niche group of Arkansas tourists looking for one-of-a-kind experiences, European flair, and, of course, tasting authentic Arkansas wines. Hundreds of people pull off I-40 each year to stop and drive through Altus and Wiederkehr Village to view and tour centuries-old, authentic European wineries established by families who immigrated to America for new opportunities.

Wiederkehr Village and the Wiederkehr Winery are home to the famed Weinkeller Restaurant, operated by fourth-generation Dennis Wiederkehr, who grew up in the house the restaurant now occupies.

Used with permission from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Who were the Wiedekehrs?

Johann and Katherina Wiederkehr moved from Switzerland to Arkansas in 1880. Their connection to the Swiss Monks who founded Subiaco Abbey drew them to the area. The monks were writing letters back home, talking about the beautiful scenery and open land opportunities around the expanding railroad in the River Valley.

With new opportunities on the horizon and safety and protection for their family, Johann and Katherina boarded a boat with their oldest child and landed in Arkansas. Altus, the “high place,” was the perfect spot for an agrarian couple with skills in farming, cattle raising, chickens and growing grapes.

Surrounded by European neighbors accustomed to wine as part of their everyday cuisine, the Wiederkehrs saw an opportunity to take what they knew from home and build a business. They planted native fruits and employed the techniques they learned from their Swiss parents and grandparents to produce fruit wines.

The region was ripe with coal mining families of European heritage, and a new opportunity came into view.

Over time, they developed their proprietary techniques and flavors, offering and selling wine throughout the state and beyond. Wiederkehr is the oldest and largest winery in the Mid-South region, operating continuously since the 1880s. The varieties of grapes that can grow in the region stupefies many, and Wiederkehr continually develops new flavors by using agrarian skills and Swiss techniques.

The best grapes, make the best tasting wines!

The Beginning Weinkeller Restaurant

Uncle Al, as the family called him, graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a commerce degree and then attended the University of Arkansas Law School. He was always the family member who used his great ideas and tried new things with plants and grafting to make new flavor varieties. Experimenting and testing were his forte.

Al received a Fulbright sponsorship to study Viticulture and Enology in Bordeaux, France and used this time to discuss on-site agritourism opportunities, like a restaurant. But it took a few more years of familial convincing.

In 1967, the timing came together, and they opened the original cellar site and log cabin surrounding it as a dining opportunity for guests. It was one of the first restaurants in Arkansas where you could sit down for a glass of wine or beer with your dinner. They would serve 300 people for lunch and then flip around and do the same for dinner, day after day.

Today, as a premier destination for romantic dinners, Weinkeller starts Valentine’s Day reservations in Dec. and Mother’s Day right after Valentine’s Day.

What is unique about Weinkeller Restaurant?

The obvious answer is that it’s in the middle of an active winery, so access to choice wines is a great advantage. But the restaurant’s most remarkable feature is its charm. A portion of the main dining room is positioned inside the original 1880 wine cellar, hand-dug by the Wiederkehrs.

The restaurant’s second-story dining room is in the original room of the first log cabin, later surrounded by a 12-room Victorian home. In 1967, they built the new restaurant around the original wine cellar using the original footprint of the first-generation Wiederkehr home and business expansion.

Beyond that, you enter through a very authentic Swiss Chalet facade to a candlelit romantic setting nestled under rock and beam. Each table provides a unique view of the dining room, whether you can see into the kitchen and watch the chef prepare authentic German dishes. Or you sit below the hand-hewn staircase surrounded by beams that tell the story of hard work and hand construction. Other guests get to experience the refurbished log cabin setting on the second floor where the family once gathered in their home. Then, other guests sit with their backs against the original cellar walls while candlesticks in emptied wine bottles provide a dancing glow around the walls.

Used with permission from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

It’s a beautiful place to share a meal.

But the food is also the unique story shared in these sacred walls. Often voted the “best ethnic food in Arkansas,” traditional German flavors weave their way among great steak dinners, leisurely lunches, and the perfect appetizers to pair with authentic wines. Guests come for a ladies’ day trip to tour the wineries, have a unique family food experience or celebrate an anniversary.

Menu Highlights at Weinkeller Restaurant

  • Cheese Fondue – while dining, I heard more than one table talking about this being the reason they came. The bowl of melted cheese blend comes with a platter of pretzel bites and other things to dip into the melty goodness.
  • Weinkeller Sampler – many will say that nothing pairs better with a glass of wine than a platter of cheese and fruit. The variety of accouterments is a perfect way to finish a tour with friends or begin a romantic dinner.
  • Sauerkraut – homemade, served as a side or on top of their Reuben sandwich.
  • Swiss Onion Soup is why many people trek back home: to eat a bowl and buy extra to bring home.
  • Tomato Vinaigrette dressing is another housemade delicacy blended with tomatoes and garlic flavors to top salad.

  • Swiss Sausage Feast offers Knackwurst, Bratwurst and Smoked Sausage accompanied by mustards, relish and horseradish.
  • Back Hendel Vienna is the most authentic dish on the menu. If you want a “Swiss” experience, this chicken breast battered and topped with bearnaise sauce is like a chicken schnitzel.
  • German potatoes are a homemade, authentic delicacy and so good. Most people will skip the french fries and go for this potato variety instead.
  • Beef stroganoff is made using Wiederkehr red wine with creamy, rustic flavors that pair perfectly with a glass of merlot.
  • Apple Strudel or Dumpling – a traditional Swiss recipe topped with a scoop of ice cream
  • Grandma Wiederkehr’s Strawberry Shortcake was a favorite of all the children growing up because the pie crust tart shell holds just the right amount of ice cream topped with fresh berries!

Weinkeller Restaurant and Wiederkehr Village are just two great stops along Arkansas’ Wine Trail among 13 Arkansas wineries

Weinkeller Restaurant
3324 Swiss Family Drive, Wiederkehr Village | Reservations – 479-468-9463
Hours: M-Th 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. | F-Sat 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. | Sun 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Website | Facebook

Wiederkehr Village Wine and Spirits
109 Rue de Cabernet St, Wiederkehr Village – Store & Tasting Room
Hours: M-Sat 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. | Sun 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Facebook | Yelp | Trip Advisor

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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