Okay. I know that you, whomever you are who may read this beyond some of my friends and family, probably don’t want to read the innerworkings of my brain. You want to see food and read about food. Understandable!
WELL, SKIP OVER THIS:
I thought I was missing German food. And I was, in a way. Okay, I’ll admit it: When I tasted my Wurst, my eyes might have rolled back in my head a little bit. When I tried my German potato salad, I may have had to tone down my shriek of “Oh! This tastes just like the Kartoffelsalat I had at the Schwarzwaldstuben!” But I think, honestly, what I was and am missing is my time in Germany. I was there (alone, not counting when Charlie came to visit at the end) for two months last summer and it was a total learning experience of the grandest sort.
There are lots of things I don’t miss:
1) Being away from Charlie.
2) Being away from Charlie.
3) “ “ “ “ [repeat]
29) No free refills on drinks and having to buy water at restaurants.
30) Meeting no one who understands what on earth I do professionally.
But I suspect I miss the adventurous feeling, wherein every day held something new. I miss speaking German out of necessity, not just as a novelty. I love that language. I miss the strange array of people, architecture, and foods that make Berlin such an amazing global city. I miss having a singular focus into which all of my activities (leisure, classroom, study, sight-seeing) fit in some aspect: learning German. I miss the amazingly comprehensive public transportation.
Adventures like that most likely live on as a golden-hued chapter in our memories precisely because they are short-lived. My scholarship didn’t go on forever. I am a wife and Ph.D. student and I couldn’t stay away from my husband and study a field (German) only tangentially related to mine (New Testament). And I didn’t want to.
But in retrospect, what I remember isn’t the heartsickness for my beloved husband nor the loneliness of being in a new place where I knew not a soul. I don’t remember the times when I embarrassed myself terribly by calling something by the wrong name or committing some social faux pas (like sniffing repeatedly or putting a hand in my lap at the dinner table). Instead I remember the joy of discovering new things, new foods, unique places, hidden alleyways, city quirks, local haunts, new worlds of history in unequaled museums, new stories on walking tours with Berliner guides, cultural particulars both of Germans and other nationalities in my class, and the sheer loveliness of the German language (NO naysayers allowed. I adore German!).
So, I shouldn’t have expected a restaurant featuring the cuisines of the countries of the Alps (Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, namely) to have been the balm to cure all of my wistful feelings regarding Berlin. First of all, Berlin is nowhere near the Alps. Second, a Berliner is much, much more likely to be found munching on an organic salad topped with sprouts and flaxseed, or eating a Turkish kebab on the run, or snacking on tapas and drinking wine for hours and hours in an outdoor cafe than they are to be eating anything we Americans would classify as “German cuisine.” In fact, many “German” restaurants in Germany are geared toward tourists. And, third, what I hadn’t considered, but really should have known is that no one in Allentown, NJ would be speaking German at a German restaurant. In fact, they’d be butchering it (in speech or, a couple times, on the menu) to a degree that would make me cringe. And I’m an American, not a German! This lack of German conversation should have been a given, but it took me by subconscious-surprise and made it impossible for me to even pretend that I was in Deutschland. So, that was a bummer that shouldn’t have bummed me out, but did anyway.
START BACK HERE, O FOOD-CENTRIC READER:
The Alps Bistro opened on Allentown, NJ’s picturesque, historic Main Street (the perfectness of which, for me, makes it the standard by which any small town American main street will henceforth be judged) on July 6, 2010. So, it had not even been open a month when Charlie and I decided to check it out. I, see previous post, felt compelled to have some German food, so we made reservations. The restaurant is open for lunch most days and dinner only on Friday and Saturday. The dining room is also quite small, so reservations are recommended.
It was full when we got there. As many nice NJ restaurants are, The Alps is a BYOB place, although they have sodas, coffee, and water at least. We just had water, but folks around us had brought along wine. I thought it was kind of cool that the local liquor store had suggested some wine and beer pairings that would go well with German food (they were German, mostly). This, along with other signals like the small lace table adornments, showed me that the management is really trying for authenticity. I appreciated that.
* I apologize that the food photos that follow are really quite grainy. I tried to use my iPhone for subtlety, but I’ve learned my lesson. These photos do not really do the food justice. I apologize. *
The mood of the restaurant was upbeat. Owners, employees, customers were excited about the new business. They were excited to try something new or, for the many people of German descent in the area, they were excited for a taste of the familiar or nostalgic.
We had printed out a coupon (good until August 31) for a free appetizer when you purchase a dinner entrée over $11. This was not, given the menu, a hard amount to top. The restaurant’s menu incorporated German titles, always with translation, and was very focused. That is, they’re not attempting to offer everything under the sun. There were two soup choices, for instance, and about five options for appetizers. There’s a daily menu and the schnitzel changes daily, as well as the options for wursts.
I started with the Alsatian Sauerkraut soup, which wasn’t “sauer” at all, but faintly sweet. It was brothy and just perfectly flavored to be a light starter. Charlie had a salad which came with a 3-bean salad and blanched carrots, in addition to a more traditional green lettuce salad.
Other people seemed to get a bread basket, but we didn’t. I’m not sure whether I observed this incorrectly, or if there was some reason why we didn’t qualify. I would have liked to compare The Alps Bistro’s breads to German Brot, since breadmaking is one of the areas in which Germans are vast culinary superiors to Americans. German breads are not only staple of their daily meals, but are always fresh, artisanal, with many whole grain varieties to choose from. Wonder Bread is not an option in Deutschland. But bakeries (Bäckerei/Konditorei) are on every corner, offering full loaves, sweet and savory pastries, desserts, and vast varieties of flavorful sandwiches, fresh every day.
Venturing outside of Deutschland for our appetizer, we selected potato pierogies. The Alps Bistro’s self-diagnosis of their gastronomical territory is as follows: “Join us for a culinary adventure through the Alps region of Europe–feature the foods of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. We’ll even make stops to Poland, Hungary, and Russia to tempt your tastebuds.” So, we figured we’d allow them to take us to Poland with a pierogie. Since we’d only eaten ice cream in that nation (when we barely crossed the border last July) it seemed fitting to try something a little more Polish when we had the opportunity.
The appetizer plate came with three potato pierogies, hot and sprinkled with bacon and onions (which had clearly been cooked with the bacon). Delicious! We definitely ate every last morsel.
Charlie had chosen the day’s Schnitzel as his meal. It was a pork schnitzel in a dark gravy with mushrooms. He asked for Spätzle as his side and, in addition, it came with carrots. Everything was well-cooked and not overdone. The Schnitzel was really tender, flavorful, and lightly breaded. It certainly rivaled any Schnitzel we had in Europe. Charlie was wholly satisfied.
Being a bit of a Wurst-fan myself (and not being tempted at all by anything with a “Leber” in it—that means “liver”), I ordered the three-Wurst platter. It came with German potato salad and sauerkraut (this was actually sour, not sweet like the soup with the same label). The smaller Wurstchen were the tastiest.
I was too full by the end of the meal to want a dessert, but Charlie thought an Apfelstrudel was in order. I was afraid to chance tarnishing my active memory of amazing Strudel. But I agreed to have a couple bites. The apple strudels are made on-site and it was, itself, quite tasty. One fun ingredient was chopped nuts (maybe walnuts?), which I don’t think I’d had in any of my German or Viennese strudels. As I predicted, I didn’t think it lived up to my memory, but that just means it didn’t ascend to demigod status. So, it was good. I’d recommend it.
All in all, I’m impressed at the new restaurant in town. People are clearly trying hard for Alpine authenticity. It’s a quaint place for a meal and a good alternative to the sea of Italian restaurants that are [Kara scans the horizon] just about all that is available around here. I do want to do a German spell-check of their menu, but Charlie told me to hold off with the red pen until after we’d eaten. Sigh.
True confession: I expected more than a single restaurant could ever truly provide—more than anything short of a plane ticket, Bahn pass, and a fistful of Euros could offer—but I still greatly enjoyed my meal and hope to return.