10 April 2009

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Heidelberg Restaurant"?

A trifle weary of eating French, Spanish and Italian in service of the Who Goes There? on Eater, Lost City found some culinary respite at Heidelberg, one of the few German restaurants in town that can call itself old. I was a surprised to see how corny the interior of this beer hall is; you'd think it was set up a few years ago with the intention of capturing the quintessential beer garden "feel." I guess the pursuit of kitsch is an older one than is commonly imagined. Still, there's plenty of genuine Germanic feeling to the place, deriving from the rare German beers on tap, German help and overheard German conversations.

Here's the piece:

Who Goes There? Heidelberg Restaurant

The next time I have $100 in my pocket that’s not doing anything, I’m going to head back to the Heidelberg Restaurant in Yorkville and drink beer out of a glass boot. It’s not so much the beer that’ll set you back at this 72-year-old UES relic (though that will cost you roughly $30). It’s the boot-shaped steins, which are lined up being the bar like so many of Kaiser Wilhelm’s footsoldiers. You have to plunk down a $60 deposit just to use one. Hey, I can’t blame management. If I had just drunk two liters of beer, I might be liable to drop my glass, too.

Most of old German Yorkville died out long ago. Restaurant-wise, the Heidelberg on Second Avenue is what remains. It’s part authentica (German beers, like Dinkel Acker and Erdinger Hefe Weizen, that you’d be hard pressed to get on tap elsewhere) and part kitsch (waiters in black lederhosen). The bar’s an experience in itself. You’re cautioned that beers are drawn the German way. That means a seven-minute wait for each draft. Your patience is rewarded with a head as big and frothy as the ones that beer commercials always promise you.

The bartendress was not just German-American, but GERMAN. And how. When I moved from the bar to a table in the dark-timbered dining area, she issued a friendly order along the lines of “You will pay for your beer now.” The menu has bratwurst, sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel, sauere nieren (sour kidneys) and eisbein (boiled pigs knuckles). A young regular at the bar who’d grown up in Yorkville, and called the Heidelberg Little Germany’s “last stand,” recommended the schnitzel. I went that way and wasn’t disappointed.

While eating, I ran into a friend who lives in the area and eats there regularly. He said the place is regularly packed with locals and loyal survivors of the once-strong German community. German conversations are not uncommon, and you’ll hear other languages as well, since a good number of European tourists seem to know about the Heidelberg. I don’t doubt my friend’s information, but mid-evening the night I ate there recently, I was one among maybe eight diners. All of us were entertained by a one-man band, who wore a Tyrolean hat, made accordion noises with his keyboard, and played “Edelweiss” and “Santa Lucia,” among other treasured Teutonic standards. Between his dreamy song stylings, the heavy food and the lager, and the overwarm temperature the room is kept at, Heidelberg could easily induce a midmeal nap. So be sure to get coffee at the end of your meal.
—Brooks of Sheffield

Previous "Who Goes There?" Features


Kelly said...

Well, the Heidelberg is truly a time capsule. But it hardly represents modern Germany.

My German friends would rather eat sushi or Thai food than Scheinehaxen Mit Sauerkraut.
So would I.

However, there is one cool German place that serves really authentic food, check out Zum Schneider on Avenue C and 7th Street.

mingusal said...

Heidelberg may not represent modern Germany, but it is representative of a two century old German-American experience that is now fading away. The place reminds me of many German-American (and German-Canadian) restaurants that my grandparents would take us to in Michigan and Ontario (and, I must say, rather similar to places that could still be found in small towns in Germany when I lived there in the early '90s). Besides Heidelberg, there are still a few German-American restaurants of this type in Queens, like the fine Zum Stammtisch on Myrtle in Glendale.

BestViewInBrooklyn said...

I haven't been there, but I have been to Zum Schneider (which Katia mentions) and Schnitzel Haus in Bay Ridge. I know my parents LOVED going to both places. Schnitzel Haus is actually really good, especially when the chef (from around Koln) is there. I don't know about a place super-kitschy, but I'm don't mind things like that as long as the food is good and the service is friendly.

Anonymous said...

Santa Lucia doesn't sound too German.


Brooks of Sheffield said...

I know, Peter. St. Lucia was Italian, but for various odd historical reasons, she is heavily idolized in Germany and Scandinavia, where they celebrate Santa Lucia Day every December.