The Literate Chef

Where Have All the Germans Gone?

In General Articles on November 2, 2012 at 3:31 PM

Once upon a time German restaurants were abundant in New York City. On East 14th Street & Irving Place, there was the famous Lüchow’s, and in the Yorkville neighborhood, once known as Germantown, along East 86th Street one could find Kleine Konditorei, the Lorelei (a new Lorely Biergarten has popped up on the Lower Eastside), the Ideal Café as well as many others. There were also numerous German butchers, bakers, delis and even a famous candy store, Elk, which carried delicious marzipan and was very popular around Easter and Christmas and is now, apparently, only on-line. Thankfully, the great butcher shop, Schaller & Weber still exists.

My introduction to German food occurred at Ehring’s, a small gem of a place located on W. 231st Street in the Kingsbridge neighborhood of The Bronx. My friend, Jimmy Murphy (R.I.P.), loved the place and convinced me to try the food. I even took my future wife there on our first date. Unfortunately, like the aforementioned establishments, Ehring’s is now but a happy memory.

Hearty German fare, such as Sauerbraten, Hasenpfeffer, Kasseler Ripchen, and Wurst Platters were plentiful in those German restaurants. You never left any of them hungry, and to help wash the food down, there was plenty of fresh German beer on tap. The entire Yorkville neighborhood always seemed like a party and was a favorite destination for those of us who loved food, beer and conviviality.

Then, along came changes in the U.S. Immigration Laws and urban re-development. With the former, fewer Germans immigrated to the U.S., and with the latter, the low rise apartment houses that once harbored the German retail establishments began to slowly disappear, only to be replaced by high rise apartment houses and generic retail stores. Eventually, most of the German culture disappeared as well, having been replaced by younger non-German speaking residents. Food tastes also changed, German food was deemed to be too heavy and didn’t sit well in the new atmosphere of health-consciousness and fitness. The City is much poorer for the loss.

Finding a good German meal in the City these days is an unexpected pleasure. One such place that is still thriving is Zum Stammtisch in Glendale, Queens, where I had a superb meal a few weeks ago with friends. With the cold weather now settling in here on Cape Cod I decided to make a Sauerbraten this week. A few years ago, when we had weekend guests, Captain Jack brought his firehouse Sauerbraten, it was a treat. Jack is a retired New York City Fire Captain and a good friend. He was kind enough the share this recipe, and I hope that you will enjoy it as much as we just did.

  1. I will always remember my dad cooking this dish, The aromas would quaff through apartment for days, one of my favorites though I could never duplicate it. Ah, Luchows, Ehrings, yeah!
    This recipe should earn Capt’n Jack honorary membership in the FDNY Steuben Society.

  2. Rich,

    I ate in Ehring’s a few times in the late 70’s / early 80’s. Good traditional German food.

    In addition, in his youth my father, a Yorkville native, was a regular @ Dresner’s (York btwn 78th & 79th). A few years ago, siblings & I spent an evening @ Dresners to partake in the fare and to hoisted a few beers in his honor. There was still a hint of German influence in the joint.

    Lastly, with my wife being of Austrian / German decent, she and her family would make annual pilgrimages to Yorkville for Christmas candy from Elks (my favorite: “Cringles”) and meats from Schaller & Weber. Such items made for a very “filling” Christmas day!

    Thanks for the diversion . . . now I am hungry!

    Robert Lowenwirth

  3. How did I miss this??? The lovely Miss Welby and I often dined there (Ehring’s), in our courting days. Her Uncle Henry T. Welby, whose picture appeared on a Life magazine cover lying on Hitler’s bed in his bunker shortly after the end of the second war to end all wars, was a waiter there for some years. Do you remember the Delicatessen on the northeast corner of 231st and B’way. It was from there I took my first courses in the delights of German food.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Richie.

    I still have an old glass mug which came home with me from a joint on 96th street. The Dinkelacker label is scratched and faded, and one of my grandsons covets it.

    • You are welcome Peadar Ban. Happy to provide the path to good memories. In a follow up, I was speaking with Dave from Coogan’s who related a great story…he asked the father of a friend of his who lived most of his life in Yorkville, “what did the German restaurants do during WWII?” His reply was that overnight the became “Swiss!”

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