The kitchen at Sisters Cafe in downtown Plattsmouth is like two little worlds.
On one side, co-owner and sister Jit Kunkel makes pad thai, basil chicken and Panang curry using fragrant Thai chilies and powerful spices. On the other, co-owner and sister Noopin Hammerich prepares wienerschnitzel, spaetzle and fresh apple strudel.
If a restaurant that serves half German and half Thai food seems like a most unlikely culinary mashup, well, it is. But when you know the story behind Sisters Cafe, which opened about a year ago, the picture makes more sense.
Kunkel and her husband, Greg, lived in Omaha, where he worked for Tenaska, and together they ran Jit's Thai Cafe, near 74th and Dodge Streets, until it closed about eight years ago. Hammerich, meanwhile, spent 40 years in Hamburg, Germany, raising her family and working in catering.
"Both my wife and her sister love to entertain and to cook," Greg Kunkel said, "They are very good at it."
When the Kunkels and Hammerichs retired, they decided, why not open a restaurant? Plattsmouth, which is close to the Kunkels' home, felt like a good fit. So the Kunkels rebooted the most popular items from the menu at Jit's Thai, and Hammerich came up with a short list of German foods, which appeals to many people around Plattsmouth with German grandmothers who made similar dishes.
The restaurant is full of locals — couples out on dinner dates, study groups, families. It's clearly popular. On a Friday evening, we arrived around 6 p.m. and the restaurant was full about 15 minutes later. Most of the diners focused on the Thai side of the menu, and I agree with them. Those dishes stood out.
The texture of a plate of pad thai hit between creamy and rich, and the sauce nailed the balance of sweet, spicy, sour and salty. I had no complaints about the dish, which also had tender bits of beef.
Our server, who also happened to be one of the owners, advised me to order my Panang curry as a 2 on the spice scale of 1 to 5, and it was perfect — not too mild but not so spicy to make it painful. The sauce had the right balance, somewhere between the sweetness of coconut milk and the spiciness of kaffir lime. Potatoes, green beans and zucchini still had a nice bit of crunch, and the chicken, tender and flavorful, pleased. As it was the week after Valentine's Day, it made sense that my side dish of the well-executed white rice arrived in the shape of a heart.
The spring rolls were simple, with wrappers filled with cabbage, Thai basil and slivered carrot. Accompanying sweet-spicy sauce arrived loaded with chili flakes and chopped nuts. It's a fresh, light combination.
The basil popped, as it should, in the layered sauce of basil chicken. Though the dish, made with slivered vegetables and tender meat, isn't on my usual list of Thai fare, I'll add it after trying this version. Punctuated with bright lemon and just enough heat, it resonated.
The decor is more Thai than German, with orchids blooming from the counter and Buddhas beaming down from almost every corner.
The German entrees arrive with a basic, small salad and delicious bread. We polished off our slices of bread - hot, fragrant and fresh — in no time.
Strangely, the two dishes we ordered, a beef roulade and a beef goulash, arrived looking — and tasting — almost identical. The roulade had the addition of some greens wrapped through its center, and I appreciated the textural differences. Both beef dishes had a bit of a chewy, dry texture, though sauces helped.
Where the German side of the menu really comes to life is in the sides. Purple cabbage was a sweet, pickled delight and easily the best thing on our plates. Spaetzle was pillowy, not doughy. A potato side dish, peppered with chunks of ham and pickle, was flavorful.
Hammerich makes all those dishes from scratch, Greg Kunkel said, along with the bread and the daily rotating slate of desserts, which can include strudels but also layer cakes and tortes.
Greg Kunkel, who has a background in botany, grows a lush garden full of Thai vegetables, peppers and spices every year at his Bellevue home. When they can, the two cooks rely on those homegrown staples.
Sisters Cafe is, at its base, a small-town cafe. That's part of its charm and why its unusual menu — and the success of that menu — is even more notable.
"Both my wife and her sister love to entertain and to cook. They are verv good at it."
Greg Kunkel, Jit Kunkels husband
Address: 534 Main St., Plattsmouth
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday
Hits: The Thai dishes are the star of the show here. They are subtly spiced, flavorful and balanced.
Misses: Though the German food is clearly homemade, it's also heavy (which comes with the territory) and many of the dishes we tried felt repetitive.
Drinks: Soft drinks, a brief wine list and a mix of German and Asian beers
Service: The petite restaurant is packed on the weekends and slower midweek; the service is small-town nice.
Noise level: Perfect for conversation
What's your opinion?
Go to 0maha.com to tell us what you think about Sisters Cafe. Leave a comment on this review.