Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dining out in Germany

For many travelers, a fascinating and satisfying aspect of travel is experiencing the different cuisines various destinations have to offer. During our recent trip to Germany, there was much to be sampled, at places ranging from Wurststände (sausage stands), where patrons stand at high tables for the few minutes it takes to gobble down a bratwurst, to white table cloth restaurants and everything in between.

Although we were only in Germany about a week, we enjoyed some very good food, at Wurststände, stalls at the Christkindlmarkts, and at several restaurants.

Christmas Markets

Travelers who visit virtually any German city of any size during Advent could conceivably go their entire visit without ever once eating anywhere except the Christkindlmarkts. A wide range of food and beverages are on offer, including the hot mulled wine known as glühwein, wines, beer and non-alcoholic beverages. Solid food items range from the ubiquitous wursts to Donner kababs, bread and rolls, candies and cookies. And while not exactly "sit-down restaurant" fare, many markts have areas set aside so that people can sit at tables and enjoy their food and beverages at greater leisure.

During our trip, we ate our share of food at the markts, but also dined at several more traditional restaurants. While clearly not an exhaustive list, what follows are places we can wholeheartedly recommend in the various cities and towns we visited.

Frankfurt

On our first night, we ate dinner at a typical German establishment called Klosterhof. As with many, if not most, restaurants in Germany, guests are expected to seat themselves while honoring any “Reserved” sign that may be on a table. We were directed to “The Winter Garden,” an outside patio with a canvas tarp overhead and space heaters every few meters. While cooler than the inside dining room, it was actually quite comfortable.

Lunch entree at Atschel, Frankfurt, Germany
Lunch entree at Atschel
Dinner consisted of glasses of a local Sauvignon Blanc, a roulade mit Klöße (a beef roulade with dumplings) and what in Germany is called “Rumpsteak,” one of three types of steak that are commonly prepared in Germany. The others are Filetsteak and Hüftsteak, none of which precisely coincides with traditional American steak cuts. They are generally smaller than American cuts and yield steaks that Germans view as individual portions when cut reasonably thick.

Both dishes were very well prepared. My wife’s rumpsteak was cooked a proper medium-rare, with a bit of red in the center, and was quite tender. My roulade was a typical German presentation and flavorful, but the stars were the dumplings. Slightly smaller than a baseball, they were made of riced raw potatoes mixed with spices and cooked mashed potatoes. Our server commented that her Oma (grandmother) makes them for special occasions and that they are “a lot of work.” But, in my estimation, worth it!

For lunch one sunny afternoon, we headed for a place I had visited during a previous trip to the city: Atschel Apfelweingaststätte. While that translates to “apple orchard,” it colloquially means the restaurant features apple wine. German Apfelwein is decidedly dry, far more similar to the hard apple cider brand Strongbow than the very sweet Angry Orchard. I enjoyed a glass before tucking into my frankfurter platter, and my wife opted for a white wine from the local area to accompany her lunch of traditional schnitzel.

Potato soup with bread chips at Margarete, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Potato soup with bread chips at Margarete
For dinner on our last night in Frankfurt, we hunted down a place that had been recommended to us by a local: Margarete. Our light dinner began with a glass each of a local Riesling, which was drier than most Rieslings sold in the U.S.

That was followed by bowls of Margarete’s potato soup with fennel, cardamom, oil and bread chips, which were rather like small, unsalted potato chips. Just the thing for a cold December evening. Our “main course” was the evening’s special: beef carpaccio with a vinaigrette of capers, scallions and vinaigrette; smoky egg-yolk, brown bread and saffron mayonnaise.

Rüdesheim

Trout for lunch at Zum grünen Kranz
Despite its small size, Rüdesheim has a number of restaurants ranging from casual to more formal. We had lunch at a restaurant associated with a historic hotel called Zum grünen Kranz, or To the Green Wreath.

We enjoyed local wines, a hearty potato and mushroom soup, trout with boiled potatoes for my wife and a Farmer’s platter for me. Lunch was capped off by a local favorite: Rüdesheimer Kaffe. Brandy is poured into warmed mugs, set on fire, then doused with coffee and topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

A couple of notes about dining in Germany: people simply are not in a hurry. Whether visitors or locals, working people or people of leisure, everyone takes their time. It is not uncommon for lunch to last an hour and a half, so plan accordingly.

Service is also different than in North America. We were greeted quickly at every restaurant we visited and our orders were brought out promptly. Once delivered, however, servers do not check back frequently so a guest who wants something additional or is ready to pay the check must wave or otherwise signal the server. It is not a matter of being inattentive; the culture is to allow people to enjoy their meal without interruption.

Würzburg

Würzburg is known for its wine and cuisine offerings. Three of Germany's largest and most renowned vineyard estates are based in Würzburg and excellent Franconian wines can be sampled in cozy wine taverns and wine restaurants.

Despite the rainy weather on the day of our visit, many people were sipping wine while standing at tables that lined the street leading to the Alte Mainbrücke, or Old Bridge over the Main River.

Wildererpfännchen at the Würzburger Ratskeller, Germany
Wildererpfännchen
What we had intended as a light snack before heading back to Frankfurt blossomed into a full meal at the Würzburger Ratskeller. Offering a wide variety of local wines by 100 ml or 250 ml pours, we sampled four small pours, including two Silvaners (a white grape varietal), a Riesling and a white burgundy.

Our appetites whetted, we decided to share a Wildererpfännchen, a plate that included servings of venison medallions, sliced venison and venison sausage with a juniper sauce. All three variations on the venison were absolutely delicious with just a hint of game flavor to the meat. In addition, the plate also included duchesse potatoes, creamy mushrooms and cranberries.

Würzburg also has at least two restaurants that have each been awarded one Michelin star. Kuno is located in the Best Western Premier Hotel Rebstock, while Der Reiser and its namesake chef Bernhard Reiser are sited on the grounds of the Würzburger Stein, one of Germany's most well-known vineyards.

Guten appetit!

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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