The American public’s taste for international food has been steadily rising in recent years. Dishes inspired by Indian cuisine have begun to pop up in the frozen food aisle between Hungry Man meals, and stands offering gyros now commonly dot roadways.
Seven Hens of Decatur marks greater progress in Atlanta’s move towards a worldlier pallet. The eatery offers chicken schnitzel in seven different varieties, each linked to the cuisine of different countries, including Italy, France, China and India.
“What I’m doing here is presenting an international twist on the schnitzel,” said owner Michael Gurevich, “Each country is exemplified by the ingredients or the sauces or the toppings that are commonly associated with the cuisine of that country.”
Gurevich brought the idea over from his home country of Israel, where a freshly battered and fried chicken-schnitzel can be found on nearly every corner. Its popularity as a street food, some say, has eclipsed falafel.
“I always joke around…by the time you’re 3 years old, you already have 900 schnitzels in your system,” Gurevich said of the average Israeli citizen.
The idea for Seven Hens developed as Gurevich noticed that most restaurants didn’t have schnitzel on their menus.
As for the dish itself, schnitzel is cloaked in mystery. Some say it dates back to the 15th century, and further debate surrounds its country of origin: Austria or Germany, where veal is often the meat of choice, are often the top contenders for schnitzel’s place of birth.
Recently, New York company Schnitzel & Things has helped elevate the presence of schnitzel in the U.S. Their rendition of the dish has gained popularity in recent years, winning the “Vendy Award” of the food truck community in 2009. But, unlike Seven Hens, Schnitzel & Things doesn’t stray far from the more conventional recipes.
“[Seven Hens] is not the run-of-the-mill sandwich shop type of deal with the same tired toppings and all,” Gurevich said.
After immigrating to America in 2006, Gurevich attended the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., graduating with a master’s degree in technical and professional communication. In 2008, his work brought him to Atlanta, where he ultimately decided to pursue his dreams of entrepreneurship in the form of food.
Seven Hens’s adventurous attitude has meshed well with the surrounding neighborhood’s vibe. Gurevich describes Decatur as “well traveled” with clientele “who are not afraid to veer a little bit off of the known channels of food.” It’s not uncommon for customers to come with stories of their previous schnitzel experiences in places abroad such as France or Germany.
Then again, as much as there is international appeal to the dish, there’s something intrinsically familiar about schnitzel that appeals to Atlanta audiences.
“You know fried chicken is big around parts of the Southeast and around here,” said Gurevich. “Essentially, introducing the schnitzel, which is a chicken breast pounded and fried, made sense in light of those circumstances.”
That being said, this is more than just a cheap and healthy alternative to red meat. For Gurevich, chicken schnitzel has come to symbolize home.
“It was something my grandma used to make for me and my mom,” he remembered. “[Now] you go out, you eat it at restaurants. It’s fun food, I guess you could say comfort food to some degree.”
For the health-conscious, Seven Hens also offers grilled and tofu varieties of its signature item; still, the restaurant is no doubt fully focused and dedicated to the schnitzel. Besides some rotating side items, new desserts and a seasonal soup, burgers and chicken nuggets won’t be making any appearances.
“We are doing one thing,” Gurevich said, “and we do it exceptionally well.”