TACOMA, WA: Bruno’s European Café

My wife and I always enjoy trying restaurants that offer the cuisines of our German and Polish heritage, so we were very pleased to “discover” Bruno’s European Café.

I put “discovered” in quotes because our discovery came via Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,which recently visited this small spot off Highway 512 and Pacific Avenue near my wife’s Alma matter, Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma.

Hangover soup at Bruno's
Bruno’s has a good selection of German, Polish, Slovak, Czech, and even Croatian beers, as well as wine by the glass, so we opted to share a 0.5-litre draft Staropramen beer from the Czech Republic.

Golden in color and medium-bodied, it was full of flavor, but struck us as being less alcoholic than many American brews. A quick check with our server confirmed a 5% alcohol level by volume, about on par with industrial brews like Coors and Budweiser, but below other craft brews like Redhook and Pyramid’s IPAs (6.5% and 6.7% respectively) and far lower than Anchor Brewing’s Old Foghorn, which is 8 – 10% (per Realbeer.com).

We decided to pull out all the stops when ordering our lunches, thinking we would take home what we didn’t finish. As if there would be anything left...

For our appetizer, we shared a cup of the Hangover soup that was featured on Triple-D. Made with bacon, pork loin, Polish sausage, potatoes, pickles (!) and spices, it was an absolutely delicious blend of the cornucopia of flavors, complemented by the tanginess of the pickles. It was served with a large Kaiser roll and butter.

Rouladen with red cabbage and Kartofelknödel
I had to have the Polish platter, which included a Gołąbki (pronounced Golumpki  and also known as a cabbage roll), four Pierogi (Polish potstickers; two meat, two cheese), Kielbasa (Polish sausage) with mustard, and mashed potatoes. My wife chose the Rouladen (beef rolled up with bacon, onion, and pickles) in rich brown gravy, with sides of red cabbage, and Kartoffelknödel (potato dumplings).

Atypically, we also had dessert; the Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) was too tempting to leave without trying.

Everything was absolutely delightful. The Rouladen were the star of my wife’s plate. They were very tender and tasty, though we agreed we would have liked a touch more pickle inside for some extra acid and salt. The red cabbage was a taste of our childhood for each of us, and the Kartoffelknödel reminded us of those we enjoyed at a little restaurant called the Bärenwirt, overlooking the Salzach River in Salzburg, Austria. (Fair warning: the Bärenwirt’s web page is only in German).

Polish Platter
The Polish platter was equally yummy. The star of my plate was the Kielbasa. Hot, juicy, but not too greasy, it came with a side of hearty brown mustard. The Gołąbki, covered with a rich tomato sauce, could have had a little more meat and less rice for my taste but had excellent flavor, as did the Pierogi. My wife put it succinctly: “The food was as good as anything we could have found in Chicago,” my hometown and home to many really good Polish restaurants.

Finally, the Apfelstrudel mit Schlag (with whipped cream) and a coffee capped off the afternoon.

Bruno’s has a good-sized, but not overwhelming, menu with many other items that caught our attention, including Latkes (potato pancakes), Schnitzel, Berliner Klopse (large meatballs) and Sauerbraten. We will definitely return for more.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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