Dark Beer Über Alles

Harald Neuweg brings back traditional German treats

It's not so surprising that South Florida has few German restaurants. Despite a significant Jewish population with ancestral roots in northern Europe, nostalgia goes only so far. There's little need down here, after all, for carb-heavy, hearty fare to fuel the peasant population through long, frigid winters. And it's undeniable that the majority of Germany's traditional favorite dishes are either coated with starches, thickened by them, or accompanied by them. Those who've spent much time in Germany also know even in cosmopolitan Berlin it's easier to score hard drugs than to find an interesting green salad that's not just an afterthought (and is not liberally sprinkled with canned corn kernels, just to keep up that carb quotient).

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like most of the Cuban restaurant meals I've had here. Add the joint Cuban/German predilection for pork and the two cuisines have much in common. And German cooks are, for sure, fond of using any pig parts, anywhere. When I first moved to Miami, a new Cuban acquaintance assured me that in her family, Thanksgiving's main challenge centered on how many pork products could be sneaked into the turkey stuffing. But my friend's relatives seemed like vegetarians compared with the chefs I encountered on my first trip to Bavaria.

As usual, I'd mastered enough of the language of the country I was visiting to negotiate any normal meal. But until my noncarnivore partner nearly barfed after one bite of a tuna-salad sandwich from a somewhat hip place, it hadn't occurred to me I'd need to learn how to explain, in German: "My friend does not eat meat of any kind, including pork. So she would like her tuna without ham and bacon in it, not even these fairly small chunks." (The first response to requests for hog-free food was always a puzzled: "But there are only little pieces.")

Try the schnitzel and bratwurst and beer, but be sure 
to leave room for the torte
Jonathan Postal
Try the schnitzel and bratwurst and beer, but be sure to leave room for the torte

At Fritz & Franz Bierhaus in the Gables, the tuna sandwich contains no pork, not even tiny slivers, according to a server. And I'd trust the servers not to steer me wrong. In their lederhosen, they are an accommodating, gemütlich bunch (though during my visits none broke into impromptu folk dances on the sturdy benches, as promised on F&F's Website). Unfortunately I couldn't test the tuna sandwich during a recent Saturday lunch because those budget-priced specials are available only on weekdays, even though the menu says they're offered "daily."

The suggested sandwich substitute was wonderful -- Holstein schnitzel (wiener schnitzel topped with a poached egg and anchovy fillets). At the Bierhaus, as in much of Germany, the three thin cutlets were pork instead of the veal used in the original Viennese version. But unlike many of the schnitzels I've suffered through in both Germany and the U.S.A., the meat here was properly pounded till tender, as opposed to pulverized; delicately breaded rather than entombed in thick crumbs; and sautéed merely till done, not till dry. Accompaniments were a rather refreshing potato salad (vinegary, not mayo-gloppy), plus a small splotch of sweet red berry preserve -- like cranberry sauce, but not tart -- that was so effective in waking up the good but unsauced meat that I wished there had been twice as much.

The chef/owner of Fritz & Franz is Harald Neuweg, proprietor of two previous restaurants at the same location. Most recent was Da Capo, an upscale eatery whose name sounded Italian but whose menu included smoked Norwegian salmon pizza, Cajun crawfish bisque, mango-glazed salmon ... and wiener schnitzel. This Floribbean/Creole/MediterrAustrian experiment lasted all of nine months. Before that the room was Satchmo's, best known for live blues music. Live music (Monday and Friday) is a carryover at the current casual indoor/ outdoor space, as is Satchmo's beloved big burger (renamed Bierhaus Burger). But Neuweg himself remains best known as proprietor of the old Mozart Stube, and the same traditional German food is what the Bierhaus serves up, though in a more youth-oriented, sports-bar ambiance.

From a list of "Bavarian tapas" (sounds peculiarly trendy but tastes comfortingly like classic German main dishes, though smaller portions and sans starch sides), a stück bratwurst proved to be the same veal sausage served in the entrée called Original Bavarian Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut und Röstkartoffel, as well as the main-dish sausage sampler. In the tapas incarnation, however, it was just a single brat without the potatoes. And it was possibly the best brat I've had anywhere, savory on its own and even better with a dab of the sinus-clearing mustard found on the Bierhaus's long wooden picnic tables. An application of this mustard also transformed a Bayerische Bier Brezel from just a soft, large pretzel into a capital E experience.

The marinated herring tapas consisted of sour cream sauce surrounding bite-size pieces of brined matjes herring fillets, salty but beautifully firm in a way that vinegar-softened pickled herring never is. The so-called "Apres Ski" Gulasch Suppe, though, crossed the sodium-overdose line with fewer redeeming qualities; the strongly paprika-spiked broth lacked sufficient body, and tastes of tomato and bouillon predominated over rich beefiness.

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