I grew up in a small town in southern Germany called Schwäbisch Gmünd. When my father migrated to Texas shortly after my fifth birthday, going to restaurants, whenever he came to visit, became our special father-daughter activity. This is not surprising, considering that I was raised by self-designated “foodies,” who started feeding me escargot on summer vacations when I was a baby.
One of our favorite places was the family owned and operated Italian restaurant near the town center of my hometown. The pizza frutti di mare was the special treat my father and I always shared there. This may seem weird because pizza is such a normal component of people’s diets nowadays, but back in the early 2000s the average German in my town only ever got to eat original Italian pizza when going to an actual Italian restaurant. And Italian restaurants were still scarce - far from comparable to the great variety of cuisines from all over the world Schwäbisch Gmünd is housing nowadays. At home the usual southern German meals were served. Some of the typical cuisine included schnitzel and spätzle (German egg noodles) with gravy, maultaschen (Swabian ravioli filled with a paste made of meat, herbs and vegetables), or fleischküchle (Swabian meatballs) with mashed potatoes, leek and gravy. These few examples show how different my everyday meals were from the occasional frutti di mare pizza.
Restaurant Königsturm was located right next to one of the town’s most popular tourist attractions - a medieval tower dating back to the early fourteen hundreds. I can still remember it as though it was yesterday - the owner and chef, Gianpierre, shouting out instructions in a mixture of Italian and German to his kitchen staff. The smell of burnt wood, reminiscent of a bonfire, coming from the wood-fired pizza oven penetrating the room, while guests devoured their pizzas or pastas with smiles on their faces, is still imprinted on my memory. But most importantly I can recall my excitement of drinking a “Kinderbier,” which is a mixture of coca cola and orange fanta, while my dad drank his usual German draft beer.
The restaurant was located in one of the town’s many Victorian period style building’s - high ceilings, timber frames, a basement area for larger groups or festivities, wooden benches covered with weirdly colored orange-brown cushions and (possibly fake) ivy hanging down the brick walls and stair railings. Gianpierre loved to keep the restaurant dark, with candles on each table, lending an intimate romantic vibe. We held family birthdays there, baptism parties and my post-communion celebration.
The majority of Gianpierre’s guests were regulars, just like my dad and I. He knew us all by name, knew his guests’ jobs, asked for updates on current issues in our lives, or how everyone’s kids were doing in school.
If we were lucky that day and mussels were in season, we ordered a large bowl of them as an appetizer. They were served in a light white wine garlic sauce alongside freshly baked crispy pizza bread from the wood-fired pizza oven.
As delicious as these mussels were, they couldn’t live up to Gianpierre’s frutti di mare pizza - the special meal my dad and I continued to share well into my teenage years before Königsturm shut down for good and Gianpierre moved back to Italy.
A crispy, thin-crust foundation topped with a thick, red, slightly spicy tomato sauce - this recipe was obviously a family secret. The second layer consisted of a mix of seafood, usually shrimp, calamari, mussels, baby clams and squid - topped with melted mozzarella cheese, and, upon our special request, chili flakes and parmesan. For my dad and I - both seafood lovers and fans of anything crispy that came in the form of carbs - there was no better meal to bond over.
Always starving by the time our pizza arrived, and being too impatient to wait for the melted cheese to cool down I would almost always burn my gums or tongue when taking the first bite. But it didn’t matter - it was too delicious to remember that brief moment of pain. The string of melty mozzarella pulling from the pizza, the fresh baby shrimp and mussels that always made me feel as if I were in Italy instead of little Schwäbisch Gmünd. The heartwarming familiarity of Gianpierre checking in on us regularly to see if everything was to our liking and asking how my dad’s week had been. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect meal.
(Photo Credit: Flickr)