Thursday, November 12, 2009

Clay Haus

by Samantha Pirc,

At the Clay Haus in Somerset, Ohio, German favorites are served up alongside typical American cuisine, all with a side of history.

Owner Betty Snider named the restaurant after her father, Irwin Priest Clay, and as a tribute to her husband’s Pennsylvanian Dutch heritage that is also deeply ingrained in the area. Her son Scott now manages the Clay Haus, which specializes in typical German fare like Bratwurst and Sauerbraten with cabbage, while serving more traditional American meals given a German-esque twist such as their “Dermeister-Burger” or “Der Meisterham”(the master burger and ham, respectively). German style potato salad and the Reuben sandwich are popular favorites says Scott, and the Sunday brunch buffet is always packed. Another dish, the corned beef, is both cooked and sliced on site, giving it more of a home-style flavor unique to the restaurant. More of a dessert man, Scott recommends any of the homemade pies to finish off a meal. After working at the family-run restaurant since 1979, he claims confidently, and with a laugh, that of all the dishes served, “Everything’s good.”

Almost as intriguing as the menu is the Clay Haus building and the history that surrounds it. The restaurant is located in a 19th century home, with the original deed of sale proudly displayed on the wall. Unlike many old homes, where the line of ownership is lost along the years, the Snider family can trace back the Somerset residents who called the building home from the original sale in 1812 to their purchasing of the building in 1978. Artifacts discovered during the renovations made by the Snider family are proudly displayed for patrons viewing along with other antiques, making the restaurant a destination for diners and history buffs alike.

The basement, which is now the Tavern room, tells a story about the history of both the town and the building. It contains full-sized windows and doors that open up to a solid wall of foundation brick and stones. Long ago the room opened directly onto street, but as the street was built up with paving bricks the outside entrance had to bricked up as well to level off the road. The Tavern, like the rest of the restaurant, is decorated with Pennsylvanian Dutch antiques, painting and memorabilia, giving the entire place a warm old-world feel.

The warm feeling of the restaurant sharply contrasts with the spooky chill that diners can sometimes get. The Clay Haus has numerous documentations of unseen visitors and bumps late at night that the Snider family has gotten used to over the years. Scott explains that the building has more of a presence than a haunting, and that as he has aged and spent more time at the Clay Haus the spooky feelings have lessened.

The restaurant was featured in "Ghost Hunter's Guide to Haunted Ohio," by Chris Woodward, and Scott says that although he has definitely felt a presence numerous times, the only time he has actually seen a ghost was the day Woodward came for an interview. He describes being in the kitchen and seeing a small girl in frumpy cloth smiling and waving furiously at him. When he stepped to the side to get a better look the girl was gone. “It was like she wanted me to see her,” says Scott.

Like the little girl waving to Scott in the kitchen, any spirits that may occupy the restaurant have always been described as friendly, so diners should not let butterflies in their stomach overcome the hunger that Clay Haus can satisfy. The potential of sharing a meal with an unseen guest in the historic atmosphere is worth it, especially when the meal is full of the delicious home-style cooking and fresh-from-the-oven pies served up daily at the Clay Haus.

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