Saturday, May 30, 2009

Turnabout: A German Restaurant in NC

So, I took some pretty abusive comments for my surprise at the non-Mexican Mexican food here in Erlangen.

I figured turnabout was fair play, so when the Lovely Ms. Mungowitz and I were in Wilmington, NC, and we espied the following sign, we knew it was kismet: You gotta admit; that has CONSIDERABLE culinary tragicomic potential. Not "Die Münchener" (Americans wouldn't know that meant "German"), or "Villy's" (I'm trying to keep with the Chilli's theme). A generic name: The German Cafe.

We go in. Beautiful old place (old for North Carolina, about 175 years for the main building, though it was a port facility until the 1930s) in the Cotton Exchange. Playing Beethoven (6th or 7th symphony, I don't know them well enough to distinguish) on a nice stereo system. (Technically, Beethoven only lived in Germany until he was 22, when he moved to Vienna. But Austrian music is better than "The Most Horrible Hits from the 70s, 80s, and Today" you hear in REAL German restaurants.)

I'm a little scared. The building itself, though, with the Beethoven playing softly, does much to settle me down. Check this: The LMM orders a salad (Oh, really?), but I have to try to sample the "German" part of the menu to see just how apocalyptic it is. Beer list: domestics? bottles? AAAAARGH! I order unsweetened iced tea. It comes....with ICE. This is no German place!

Except that then I see the actual beer list. A fine variety of actual German beers, on tap, including a very fine Hefe Weisse. I ordered the Wurst plate (going for the knockwurst), which comes with sauer kruat, kartoffelsalat, and bread, as you see on the menu...

The waitress, dressed in a modest dirndl, brings the food. Note that it looks quite tasty, that the side dishes actually LOOK like sauer kraut and potato salad, and the the Hefe Weisse is served in a proper Hefe Weisse glass, and is properly cloudy. Overall, a decent B. Any German who ate this meal would be disappointed (the bread was horrible, though it is standard American "brown" bread, soft, gummy, and tasteless), but not amazed. The knockwurst was quite good, the sauer kraut was that weak kind without spice, but with some rye seeds added, and the potato salad was just okay. BUT IT WAS A WURST, WITH KRAUT AND POTATO AND BREAD. That is a German meal, no matter how poorly executed. Further, the ham on the LMM's salad.... delightful fresh lettuce, and oh, the ham. German meats generally, and ham in particular, are just at a higher standard than the U.S. And this ham was genuinely first rate.

Finally, on the language question: the owner, and one employee, were both native German speakers. No repeat of the "pollo" incident here.

So, tote up the score: Hefe Weisse, wurst, and ham all very acceptable quality. Side dishes were mediocre, but at least they were the correct side dishes. Adding the watermelon slice was charming, an American touch. But it did not DISPLACE the correct side dishes (at the German Mexican restaurant, you may recall, the cabbage with mayo was presented INSTEAD of rice/beans/etc. that should accompany a Mexican meal).

Plus, The German Cafe had a nice tapestry of a fine German schloss, in a dark corner. The decor was legit. Like I said, solid B. American German beats German Mexican.


Marina Martin said...

If you want Mexican food (not amazing, but more authentic), go to Pura Vida in Herzogenaurach (a quick drive from Erlangen). It's part of the Herzogs Park hotel. (You will appreciate Pura Vida in particular because they have a registry where you can sign your name and get a free "membership card" so they can allow smoking and circumvent the law.) The capirihnas are particularly strong. Say hi to Tasso from Marina and Damon :)

There's also a good Thai place in Erlangen called Zen ( and some good sushi at Ginkgo. Damon (who lived in Herzo far longer than I) also suggests Galileo for Mediterranean food in Erlangen:

BR said...

Can an academic conclude that "American German beats German Mexican" with only 2 data points? I think you should go to at least 30 of each to get a proper sample set.

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Anonymous said...

Next time you are in Raleigh and want superior central European food and drink: J. Betskis.

Rand said...

"Die Muenchener" doesn't mean "German", it means someone from Munich. Granted that Munich is in Germany, but that is as if "Chicagoan" were translated as "American".

Mungowitz said...

Rand: Good lord. You can't possibly have thought that *I thought that "die Muenchener" meant "German." Germany has different regional cuisines, just like the U.S. That's why I picked one, at random. It happens I have spent quite a bit of time in Muenchen, and so felt that would be a good example.

The idea that there is a "German" restaurant is as silly as claiming that there is an "American" restaurant. "The Chicagoan," though, would not be a good name for an American restaurant in, say, Tehran. People might not get the connection.

In your comment, why didn't you criticize me for saying that all Germans are named "Villy"? Your logic should be the same, right? Since I used the name "Wilhelm," I must think that all Germans are named Wilhelm?

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