06 November 2009

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Zum Stammtisch?"

Zum Stammtisch has got to be one of the happier finds in my experience writing "Who Goes There?" for Eater. Not being a habitue of Glendale, I did not know of its existence until recently. Seeing the remnant of a German enclave around the neighborhood, I started asking people if there was a good German restaurant around? Everyone replies "Zum Stammtisch" without missing a beat.

Who Goes There? Zum Stammtisch

The name of this 37-year-old German chow hall may cause the stranger to pause before attempting the treacherous pronunciation, but it rolls like browned butter off the tongues of the aging German and Polish-Americans of Glendale and Ridgewood, Queens, who call this dark-timbered, antler-strewn restaurant their second home. Middled-aged and elderly regulars lumber and totter happily through the front doors. They find the patience needed for the seemingly endless wait to be acknowledged by the busy waitresses and shown a booth in the main dining room's tight, quarter-circle of coziness. They then settle down for a feed that could last anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours.

Most of the patrons look more like well-padded Midwesterners than New Yorkers. The women are largely blonde. The men have a woodsy, lumberjack-like look. Moustaches are plentiful, canes are common, and pendulous bellies abound. A septuagenarian comes in wearing a thick blue and white sweater with reindeer on it. In the corner booth, a ring of zesty old ladies are having a boisterous meal out. The walker belonging to one of them waits for her by the bar, and the waitress brings it over when its time to go. All uncomplainingly make the evidently arduous journey up and down the stairs to the bathroom.

One can't blame any of these happy grazers for feeling laden or sluggish. Zum Stammtisch fully commits itself to German cuisine at its fullest. You can not eat light here. You just can't. The meal doesn't begin with bread; it begins with a small loaf of bread, a knife thrust in its center. There's herring, there's goulash, there's wurst. The one listed salad is made up of nine components, including potatoes. Every fish come with sides of home fries. Entrees, like the popular, mushroom-smothered, veal Jägerschnitzel, are tripled-sized, almost ensuring a several-pound doggie bag. (It is assumed you will want to take the leftovers with you; when I hesitated, my waitress regarded me with a doubtful expression until I knuckled under and changed my mind.)

All these things are dangerously delicious, by the way. Beer (in glass, big glass, or glass boot) is the natural accompaniment. Hacker Pschorr, in several expressions, is proudly served—and advertised; the ribbons bearing the beer's blue and white colors, lit from within by white Christmas lights, are gayly draped from the ceiling like New Year's Eve decorations. They draw your eyes to the cute kitsch that line the walls: steins and tapestries, a poster for the upcoming 81st Edelweiss Ball, a the large moose head that wears a tiny Tyrolean hat.

Zum Stammtisch was founded in 1972 by John Lerner, a German immigrant. It's now run by his sons, Hans and Werner. The day I ate, the other dining room had been let out to a funeral party. As there is a funeral parlor across the street, I'm guessing this happens often. It was a jolly wake. Lots of laughter. There's a long red banquette that lines one end of the bar that divides the two dining rooms—more invited, winter's-night snugness. Hung mid-bar is a framed list of ten items, all written in German. I ask the bartender, a tall, goateed man wrapped in several yards of white shirt, what the sign is. "It's the rules of the bar," he says. What are they? "I don't know. I don't speak German."
—Brooks of Sheffield

Previous "Who Goes There?" Columns


Lex said...

Great post.

I've been going to Zum's for more than 20 years - it never disappoints. I'm especially fond of their goulash soup, hearty stuff and just the thing on a cold day.

There's actually a recipe on epicurious that will produce a result pretty much identical to what you can get at Zum's.


Kevin Walsh said...

The Queens Crapper and I were there in the summer. Great stuff, but better for a cold night in December than a hot afternoon in August!


Glenn B said...

I have been a fan of Zum Stammtisch from back when there were still at least a dozen or more good German restaurants in Glendale. I go there when I can now, sadly not as often as when I still lived in Glendale but I suppose that makes the beer and food taste even better. The food is still great, the service very jolly and good, and the atmosphere is wunderbar!

I have to agree with the comment above from Kevin who said this is a food stop for December, but then again I will disagree with him when he said it is not one for August. With the selection of fine German Weiss Biers and Lagers they have on tap and in bottles - this is a fine stop for a hot summer's night too!

If you want to try some German cooking yourself, why not make a stop at Carl Ehmer's Butcher shop across the street from ZS. It is owned and run by Rudy - a good man who makes a great wurst.

Then there is Von Westenhagens only a block away from ZS at 71st Street (or 71st Place) and Cooper Avenue a short block off of Myrtle Avenue. It is another fine German Restaurant - family run and I think in business longer than ZS. They have the best Bratwursts in the USA (as per my wife and her side of the family, and I'll admit them pretty darned good too).

When either at ZS or VW - try a Kirschwasser (straight up) - if you are cold or hot - it will do the trick.

All the best,
Glenn Bartley

Velvethead said...

I cannot get enough of the Herring in Cream Sauce!

Anonymous said...

My Father took me there when I was
10 years old & It's by far the best German Restaurant I have ever been to. Food & atmosphere is great. Moved down to Florida 15 years ago but whenever I am in NY I make a special trip to visit. The Rouladen is very special & believe it's only available 1 night a week so I remember calling ahead to reserve once because the last time they ran out. Can't wait to visit again, I miss it very much.
Website is terrific for whenever I need a good comfort smile. Thank You