At 2 p.m. on a weekday, every table at Weller’s Bistro is taken, well past the usual lunch rush.
That’s a good sign for owner Jan Weller, who opened his restaurant in Layton’s former Gabor Brothers building in August 2019.
Weller’s was starting to gain a reputation for its German cuisine when the COVID-19 pandemic closed down in-house dining last year. By suddenly pivoting to takeout, the bistro managed to weather the storm.
Nowadays, people are coming in for German specialties such as das schnitzel and goulash, or Weller’s classy spin on American favorites such as soy-glazed salmon.
Weller, from Witten, Germany, has a long culinary background, beginning with a three-year apprenticeship in a fine dining German restaurant, then time at the prestigious Savoy Hotel in London. After moving to America, he worked at Radisson Hotels, and Park City’s Goldener Hirsch Inn and High West Distillery. Along the way, he earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and a master’s in business administration.
Most recently, he managed two fine dining restaurants at the Promontory Club in Park City. With his home in Farmington, the long commute was taking its toll. And, he had always wanted to open his own restaurant.
“I was looking to create a rustic, yet contemporary space to feature scratch-made quality food, craft cocktails and exceptional service,” he said.
He was intrigued when the former Gabor Brothers building came available, as he had eaten there frequently.
“The location was in desperate need of a remodel, but given the prime location on Main Street and intimate and unique layout of the inside, it was worth the investment,” he said.
One drawback, though — “This is the smallest kitchen I’ve ever cooked in.”
Weller replaced the building’s run-down, kitschy look with a sophisticated, understated ambiance.
After brainstorming for a name, he finally chose his own, as it was personally backed by his two decades of successful restaurant and hospitality experience. “Bistro” also made sense, as it means “small restaurant,” and Weller’s has only about 50 seats. There are also several patio tables at the front entrance, for those who prefer outdoor dining due to COVID concerns and don’t mind the sounds of Layton’s busy Main Street.
He and his executive chef, Christopher Henry (formerly of Twigs Bistro in Farmington), offer classic German dishes not often found on Utah menus.
The best-selling dish by far is the schnitzel — a pork loin that’s pounded until thin and tender, then parmesan crusted and pan fried. It’s accompanied by a choice of three different sauces — savory mushroom, velvety lemon beurre blanc or a robust bell pepper and onion sauce. It’s served with rotkohl (braised red cabbage with apple) and bratkartoffeln (sliced Yukon gold potatoes roasted with bits of onion and bacon).
Other popular dishes are rouladen (slow-cooked beef rolls filled with Dijon, cornichons and speck, a type of ham) and huhnerfrikassee (German chicken fricassee with mushrooms, asparagus, peas and dill rice). A favorite appetizer is the house-made pretzel with beer cheese and mustard sauce.
Some of the newer additions to the menu are frikadellen (German-style meatballs with green beans and potato salad), chicken pesto penne with sun-dried tomatoes, and a baked brie appetizer served with berry compote.
“Personally, I love the goulash,” Weller said of the hearty stew of braised beef chunks, served with sauerkraut and spaetzle (pasta). “It is my grandpa’s recipe and I am happy every time I see one leaving the kitchen window.”
Many people are put off by sauerkraut because of its sharp, sour flavor from the canning liquid. But Weller takes the “sour” out of sauerkraut by rinsing off the canning liquid and cooking it for three and a half hours with flavorings like juniper berries and vegetable stock. The result is more mildly flavored.
If you’re not into German cuisine, there are more familiar choices, such as a burger or veggie burger, creamy chicken pesto penne or artisan pizza.
The pizzas are on the menu mainly due to “Gertrude,” a nickname for the massive pizza oven left over from the Gabor Brothers days. “It’s beyond me to figure out how to get it out of the kitchen, so I might as well use it,” Weller said. They include Margherita, veggie, “All The Meats” and “The German,” with white Muenster cheese sauce, pork and veal bratwurst slices, sauerkraut and whole grain mustard sauce.
Two favorite sandwiches are the Reuben sandwich, and the German dip sandwich — a riff on the French dip, made with sautéed pork tenderloin, with an au jus dipping broth.
The Kinder (children’s) menu includes mac ‘n’ cheese, frankfurter or mini schnitzel.
Weekly specials, posted on a chalkboard and the restaurant’s Facebook page, switch up the regular menu. “After we opened, we established regulars rapidly, and we want something new for them to try,” Weller said. “I have one couple who come in twice a week and only order from the specials.”
Recent dinner specials were smothered chicken with melted mozzarella, Hollandaise sauce and sautéed mushrooms for $19; red trout almandine, $22; and a 12-ounce New York strip loin steak for $34. Brunch items are offered on weekends.
Takeout now makes up about 20% of orders. Weller says dining in gives a better overall experience, with the meal elegantly plated on nice china, beverage service that includes beer, wine, spirits or cocktails, and thoughtful service.
“I’m very excited to bring a part of German culture to Utah,” he said. “Many Utahns have German ancestors or lived in Germany at some point, and it is an honor for me to bring back some of those memories to my guests.”