This past Wednesday I had the great pleasure of visiting a small, family owned German-American restaurant in Somerset called Clay Haus. After driving for little over than an hour, I finally turned the corner on Main Street (yes, it’s actually called Main Street) and found myself in front of a row of attached 19th century buildings. Once I entered the flat façade of Clay Haus, I was greeted by waitress Jenna and manager-owner Scott Snider. Jenna and Scott, with her casual sweatshirt and his silver rimmed glasses and bright orange shirt, were just as welcoming as the quaint and intimate atmosphere of the restaurant.
Scott, who that morning had been helping a 90-year-old woman without electricity, would come talk to me later. Jenna directed me to a small table in the corner, right next to a wood-burning fireplace while country music blared in the background. Images of Native Americans and past presidents stared down at me, among other antique chotskies. Only two other tables were occupied – a two-top with an elderly couple and a group of three business-dressed patrons. Jenna handed me both a lunch and dinner menu and was off to fetch me my ice water.
The menus consisted of (what I would consider) traditional German-American favorites: reubens, liver and onions, der meister ham sandwiches and burgers, German chicken cooked with sweet and sour cabbage, German chocolate cakes baked in a skillet and Raven’s Glenn Wine from Lafayette, Ohio. The front of the dinner menu gave me some background of the 30-year-old restaurant:
Opened in 1979 by Betty Priest Snider, Scott’s mother, she originally titled the restaurant after her father – Irwin Clay Priest was his name – and after the Pennsylvania Dutch word “haus” (her father was Pennsylvania Dutch).
That was about as far as I got when Jenna came back requesting my order. I asked for the Charbroiled Bratwurst on a Toasted Bun with sauerkraut, horseradish sauce and potato salad.
“German or American potato salad?” asked Jenna.
I stared blankly at her. Dear, God, what do I say? Did it just get extremely hot in here? I wiped a stream of sweat off my brow. My throat went dry and I stared blankly into Jenna’s face.
“Uh… what do you like?”
She hesitated. “Well, I don’t really like the German salad because it’s warm and kind of too sweet.”
“I’ll take the American salad then.”
Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating my reaction. But I didn’t want to look stupid! If it’s a German restaurant, I should want to eat German potato salad, right? But I was extremely satisfied with my American potato salad. It contained the perfect amount of sweetness paired with the soft potatoes and I literally scooped up the remaining sauce (is it called sauce?) with my leftover bread. The bratwurst – which I also stupidly asked Scott “what is bratwurst?” “It’s a German sausage.” “Oh, right.” – had a great balance of spiciness and meatiness and the horseradish sauce alongside the sauerkraut gave it a sour little kick. And naturally when Jenna offered me a slice of the homemade German chocolate cake, how could I say no? The coconut was crunchy and the cake was moist and it was delicious.
Very descriptive, right? Maybe I’m not great at restaurant reviews because I will always say everything tastes great, but Clay Haus had awesome food.
As I was finishing up my cake, Scott was finally able to sit down with me and answer a few questions before he gave me a tour.
The restaurant occupies a home that was built in the 1820s by the Jackson Family – cousins to then-president Andrew Jackson.
“It was a family residence for years then it was bought and turned into an antique shop, and then deserted and that’s when we bought it and restored it.”
So why German-American cuisine? The Pennsylvania Dutch Germans settled in Somerset over two hundred years ago, and Scott’s relatives were some of the firsts. There has been a great German influence in the area since the 19th century, which is why Clay Haus offers an eclectic mix of home-style specials (like spaghetti) and German dishes (like the bratwurst I just enjoyed).
Since purchasing the building in 1977, Scott and his family have been restoring the restaurant and developing a menu full of hearty American and German dishes. Today, Scott is renovating the basement into a pub – the restaurant will soon be renamed to be Clay Haus Eatery and Pub and Scott hopes to create a family-friendly tavern-like restaurant.
“That’s my legacy as I take control.”
Scott showed me around his mutli-level restaurant, which included party and private rooms and the soon-to-be renovated basement. After the tour was over I thanked Scott for my meal – yes, as a journalist I must disclose that Scott paid for my dinner, but I left Jenna a hefty tip – and I was on my way back to Athens.
Here is the Youtube video of the original investigation:
During the investigation there were taps, orbs and equipment malfunctions. That sounds like some Scooby-Doo business to me! Scott continued to tell me stories of seeing “people” out of the corner of his eyes but when he would turn around, there would be no one there.
One day while Scott and his chef were cooking food, they heard a loud crash from upstairs in a party room that was once a bedroom. Before finishing the story, Scott pointed out a pot with a missing handle that “had never been moved before.”
After hearing the crash, Scott investigated the bedroom but saw no broken windows nor anything unusual, until he laid his eyes on the same broken pot lying on the ground. He believes that a ghost was trying to reach the pot – which was used for heating beds during the 19th century – but couldn’t fully grasp the pot, so it fell.
The restaurant in the daytime had no hint of mal-activity.
“It’s cozy and it’s not a bad ghost.”
Now, after the tour I thanked Scott for a wonderful hour and headed toward my car, his last words sitting in my head.
“Hopefully the food’s good, I think people like the atmosphere, it’s very quaint. When we were growing up my parents would take us to Gettysburg, Williamsburg, we did those kinds of trips and we always looked for an off-the-beat type inn to eat in that was someplace unique. So when it was our turn to open a restaurant we opened that type of restaurant.”
Scott and his family definitely reached that goal – I saw no hint of fast food or chain restaurant anywhere. Clay Haus is a warm, intimate, quaint antique restaurant that offers great food and is full of even better friends. Scott is excited about the new direction of the restaurant with the addition of the pub in the basement, but also to uphold his mother’s original legacy as a unique restaurant. I can’t wait to go back and try the bean soup or rueben and an authentic German beer.