I must admit, it had been a while since I last wandered around in Yorkville. Nonetheless, I was shocked by what I took in during a recent stroll along Third Avenues from 96th to 86th streets. The chains have completely consumed the area. The street's a soulless mall. I grew physically sick with each successive block.
Needing some solace I hung a left at 86th and headed toward Second. There, I found a bright, albeit thin sliver of individuality and the last beachhead of what was formerly the main German enclave in Manhattan. Standing nearly side by side, divided only by a bakery, are Schaller & Weber, the German sausage emporium and grocery store, and the Heidelberg Restaurant, one of the few eateries in Manhattan to service straight-ahead German cuisine. Residents of the lower reaches of Manhattan know Schaller & Weber from the packaged links they see in the meat department of Gourmet Garage. This is where they come from. (I discovered a new item—cocktail bratwurst—which may become my new passion.)
Heidelberg, meanwhile, is known only to diners who don't follow restaurant trends. This place could be in Illinois, so few are its nods to the swankery of modern-day dining. However, the swells who hang out at the Gowanus Yacht Club would find a lot to like in its miniature outdoor beer garden.
I was sad to see the Elk Candy Company, which was right around the corner, on 86th, has closed. Their marzipan window displays were something to see. Also long gone are Cafe Geiger and the Ideal Restaurant. I did find a Hungarian bakery and a kosher meat market stubbornly hanging on. Watch out, boys. You're surrounded.