PORTLAND, OR: Gustav’s/Der Rheinlander for authentic German food

Craving some good German food since my December 2013 visit to Frankfurt and München was rapidly becoming a distant memory, I decided to introduce my wife to the fare at Gustav’s/Der Rheinlander during a recent visit to Portland, Oregon. We have both already vowed to return!

Before I continue, let me tell you about the unusual name.

The first, and more traditional, German restaurant – der Rheinlander – was opened by Portland culinary icon Horst Mager in 1963. Located at 5035 NE Sandy Boulevard, it offers an authentically German experience with strolling accordion players and singing waitresses in addition to some righteous Teutonic cusine.

Cabbage Rolls (foreground)
Sausages (background)
Gustav’s Bier Stube (German for “beer hall” or “brasserie”) was founded by Horst and his daughter Suzeanne in 1992. With five locations in the metro Portland area, Gustav’s bistro-style, à la carte menu offers scratch-made recipes of traditional German fare as well as Northwest favorites, accompanied by at least 18 imported German beers on tap. The Gustav’s location on Sandy Blvd., is adjacent to and shares the property with der Rheinlander.

We popped in on a recent Friday night and were offered seating in either restaurant. We chose Gustav’s, in part because we were still undecided about whether to order a full dinner or opt for several small plates off the appetizer menu. Unfortunately, the extensive six-page menu didn’t make our choice any easier.

We started with a traditional cheese fondue of garlic, white wine, and grated Swiss cheese served with chunks of white and dark brown bread, for $9.45. The gooey, melty cheese was served in a small bowl rather than atop a traditional fondue pot with a can of Sterno keeping it warm, but it was gone so quickly, it didn’t matter.

As we compared and contrasted our chosen glasses of Oregon Pinot Gris – hers an Erath ($7.25 for 6 oz) and mine a Wines by Joe ($7.75 for 6 oz.) – we decided to go with the signature items from a couple of dinners as served in appetizer form.

Cabbage roll, sausage and
potato pancake
I’d been craving Kohlrouladen (also called gołąbki in the German/Polish household where I grew up). They consist of cabbage leaves wrapped around a mixture of seasoned ground pork & beef, then braised in tomato stock. Served with mashed potatoes, the dinner was $13.95. Instead, we selected the appetizer of two cabbage rolls for $7.25.

German wurst – sausage – was also on our short list. Gustav’s offers six different types of sausage including a classic German bratwurst, a cheddar brat, smoked German bier sausage, sweet wild boar sausage, smoked buffalo cheddar jalapeno brats, and Southwestern buffalo brats. Because our tastes tend toward the traditional, the classic and the smoked bier wurst were our choices so the “Sausage Teaser” appetizer of two links, served with grainy mustard and caramelized onions for $8.95, filled the bill nicely. Full dinners with either two or three links, sauerkraut, warm potato salad, and red cabbage are $12.95 and $15.95, respectively.

Potato pancakes with
sour cream and applesauce
The potato pancake appetizer met our need for starch (as though the bread with the fondue hadn’t been enough). Served with both sour cream and applesauce for $5.95, there is no comparable “potato pancake” dinner, though they can be ordered as a side dish.

Completely satisfied, we had to pass on other items, including Wiener schnitzel and Sauerbraten, as well as a variety of desserts. But there is little doubt: We will be back!

Non-German fare is also on offer, including French dip and Reuben sandwiches, a variety of burgers, pulled pork and turkey sandwiches, and chicken strips and grilled cheese sammies for the kids.

Es schmeckte sehr gut!

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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