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Posts from the ‘Berlin’ Category


Sure, we have Turkish food in NYC, but it’s not as ingrained in our culture as in Berlin. I wouldn't call it a top of mind cuisine. And while our love of gyros matches a German fondness for doner kebabs, our geographically generic shaved meat in a pita isn’t particularly Turkish or Greek or…whatever it's supposed to be.

Mercan exterior

Cafeteria-style Mercan, in Kreuzberg, is as good as any place to get acquainted with homey Turkish cooking. For only 6 euros, you can pick an entree (in the American sense–we're the only weirdos who use the term to mean the main dish, not a starter) from the handful of giant metal pans behind glass at the counter, choose rice or bulger, and salad or dessert. Nothing is labeled—the only written indications are in German on the chalkboards out front–but it's likely that one of the cooks will be able to speak enough English to explain the basics.

Mercan lamb & eggplant

You may find a thick ground lamb and eggplant dish slicked  with mildly spicy oil (perfect for dipping the fluffy focaccia-like bread), the abergin musakka. I've always wondered why countries like England and Germany use French words for so many food items, or are we the weirdos again with our eggplants and zucchinis?  When a server at speakeasy, Beckett's Kopf, described a cocktail to me using the term "pamplemousse," I remarked, "oh, grapefruit," and he got all flustered like I was correcting him (I was not). I'm still trying to figure out the German temperament.

Mercan lamb & potatoes

Or you can have Lamm nacken a.k.a. lamb shank stewed with potatoes. There are plenty of non-lamb options, by the way.

Mercan rice

Rice is fortified with meaty white beans. I think they refer to this style with slivered nuts and cooked in broth as pilaf.

Mercan salad

The chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion salad was a little bland even with the sliced chiles and a squeeze of lemon. It wasn’t until after I finished eating that I  noticed other diners making a dressing with the oil and vinegar on the table. Of course. I'm not used to d.i.y. dressing, though it seems commonplace in other countries–Spain and Argentina, off the top of my head.

Mercan * Wiener Strasse 10, Berlin, Germany

Schwarzwaldstuben & Renger-Patzsch

Schwarzwaldstuben and Renger-Patzsch are both solid neighborhood restaurants in opposite corners of Berlin. Neither are secrets with locals nor tourists. Schwarzwaldstuben, the more Williamsburgy of the two (though it’s hard to tell where the rampant displays of antlers diverges from tradition into irony in Berlin) in Mitte (which I’d characterize as more of a Carroll Gardens) wasn’t exactly a snap to get into.

Unlike, say, a Prime Meats, though, they do take reservations because Germans are reservations crazy, yet calling Monday while at JFK still couldn’t snag us a seat any sooner than that Thursday. I think part of the issue is that unlike in NYC where tables constantly turnover and it’s expected that you’ll promptly vacate after eating, in Berlin, like much of Europe, you’ve essentially booked a table for the night. People get up, smoke, come back, take breaks between courses, order a round of drinks after eating, smoke some more, another round of drinks, no rush.

So, first we ate at the slightly less hectic, but reservations-needed Renger-Patzsch in Schoenenberg, a neighborhood I can’t really peg because the walk from the S-Bahn was dark and kind of desolate with most businesses closed for the evening, everyone tucked into their apartments.

Renger patzsch alsatian blood sausage, bacon & lentils

Gebratene Elsässer Blutwurst mit krossem Speck und Rahmsauerkraut. I love blood sausage from all cuisines, but this version was particularly good. Sliced into three pieces, there was more surface area to crisp up and caramelize. I just noticed that my copy and paste from their menu has creamed sauerkraut instead of the lentils I was served. I love pickled cabbage, but the more French leaning legumes were a solid pairing, especially with the bacon. 

Renger patzsch bleu d’auvergne, leek, walnut tarte flambée

Tarte flambée végétarienne: mit Lauch, Walnüssen und Bleu d´Auvergne. The menu has Alsatian touches like the extensive list of flammekueche a.k.a. tarte flambée. I love these thin, crackly pizzas but a whole square tart for one person is kind of too much with an appetizer even if the waitress says otherwise. I succumbed to this vegetarian one with sauteed leeks, walnuts, and Bleu d’Auvergne because I can never not order something that contains that soft Brie-like blue cheese. If it’s in the house, I’ll pick at the wedge until it disappears (usually, three days later). The American in me wanted to take my remainders for later, but that isn’t done.

Renger patzsch alsatian sauerkraut with pork shoulder, pork knuckle, salt pork & smoked sausage

Elsässer Sauerkraut mit Schäufele, Eisbein, Kassler und Rauchwurst. An Alsatian pork platter with knuckle, smoked sausage, salt pork, and shoulder. Plus, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, and sharp mustard on the side. This was not listed as charcroute garni, but isn’t it?

Schwartzwaldstube interior

Schwarzwaldstuben also served flammekueche, but the cuisine is supposedly more Swabian with pasta dishes like maultaschen, a ravioli-like dumpling, and spaetzle. The menu is not huge (and not online, so no German here) with no real appetizer/main convention, and revolved around a lot of bacon-studded potatoes, gravy, cabbage, sautéed mushrooms, and braised meats. And not particularly lightened-up nor downsized, which is not a complaint.

Schwartzwaldstube pork schnitzel

Schnitzels are also served, of course. I am still getting the variations straight and if I’m correct this pan-fried pork cutlet would be schweineschnitzel or maybe schnitzel wiener art (Vienna-style schnitzel).

I didn’t mean to eat roast venison twice in a week; it just happened.

Schwartzwaldstube venison

This was a special that was verbally described to me as “deer,” (of course our server could speak pretty good English–and French in addition to German) after miming at the faux taxidermy (there were also real antlers, no heads). Stewed meat and cabbage might not sounds so alluring on paper, but with rich gravy and buttery spinach spaetzle, it’s the best kind of cold weather food.

Partyhaus interior

By the way, the other venison dish, the first thing we ate after landing, was at the Party Haus in the Alexanderplatz Christmas market. Late night, it’s like the German version of a Jersey Shore club: bouncers, screaming, stumbling, fueled by Jägermeister.

Partyhaus cheesy beef skillet

At 6pm, it was groups of senior sipping Glühwein and us just pointing to something on the English-free menu: wildbraten, gefüllt mit Pilzen wurzigem kase, überbacken mit Preiselbeeren, Pfännchen, serviert. It turned out be a pan filled with venison chunks, mushrooms, peppers, corn kernels, bound by melted cheese with a blob of cranberry jelly, like the long lost brother of an Applebee’s Sizzling Entree.

Schwarzwaldstuben * Tucholskystraße 48, Berlin, Germany
Renger-Patzsch * Wartburgstraße 54, Berlin, Germany


There are so many un-American things about Nordsee, the German fast food chain (though its mascot is very Spongebob). I can't see a fish restaurant not exclusively devoted to the battered and fried doing so well. Plus, real plates, glasses, and beer in a mall food court?

Nordsee pickled fish sandwich

To be fair, there are plenty of fried options at Nordsee; the woman in line ahead of me was getting a very Brooklyn Chinese takeout combo of fried shrimp and fries. I was trying to not fill up so I could squeeze in a second lunch later, hence the petite sweet-and-sourish pickled herring, cucumber, and onions on a roll. I would totally buy this instead of those sad still-hungry-afterward half-baguette sandwiches from Pret a Manger that I occasionally get sucked into ordering.

More American was Papa Asada, the Tex-Mex restaurant, selling something that looked suspiciously like a Crunchwrap. In fact, it was called a Crunchwrap. It's also suspiciously absent from its website. Perhaps Taco Bell should look into a German expansion.

Nordsee * ALEXA, Am Alexanderplatz Grunerstraße 20, Berlin, Germany


Hofbräu Berlin

After reading about the Berlin arrival of Hofbräuhaus, a beer garden franchise from Munich that has outlets in Dubai and Las Vegas (maybe I’ll pop in this weekend), I knew I had to pay a visit. If only because Bavarian kitsch in the capital might be akin to a Cracker Barrel in Manhattan (no one seems to realize that you can reach the country chain if you head west for an hour–no need to cross the Mason-Dixon Line).

Hofbrauhaus berlin interior

The giant space designed to hold 2,500 wasn’t even close to capacity on a dark, blustery Friday afternoon, but there was an oompah band (they had just left the stage). We were the only ones who didn’t know the words to the songs.

The real reason I wanted to go to the Hofbräuhaus was because I needed a schweinshaxe fix. Berlin is known more for eisbein, a boiled pork knuckle, but I wanted a massive dose of lechon-like crispy skin and fat.

But I didn’t want to seem like a total glutton. Even though I knew I was ordering something embarrassingly massive, I played it off like I was a naive American unwittingly picking random things. And oddly, this was the only restaurant I dined at that didn’t have English menus or translations below dishes, and it was the most touristy place by far, right off Alexanderplatz, the metaphorical Time’s Square of Berlin.

Hofbrauhaus berlin pork shank

When it arrived and drew the attention of the neighboring group of German tourists who’d commandeered two big tables, I pretended like I was surprised. I may have even opened my eyes wider and held out my hands as if I were air-measuring the knuckle’s girth.

Of course, I couldn’t eat it all myself. There was no way the crackled hunk of meat was going to be to even be tackled fully by two people, and I didn’t get the impressions that Germans, like most Europeans, engaged in doggie bagging. We did the best we could. I have to tamp down my food-wasting guilt on vacations.

Hofbrauhaus berlin sausages

I did not order the sausages and potatoes.

Hofbräu Berlin * Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 30, Berlin, Germany

The Bird

As often happens when researching dining options in foreign cities, I stumble upon something interesting, but too American for a short trip (unlike Las Vegas, which I'm currently researching, where restaurants are literal NYC duplicates–do I really need to travel to a desert to eat at Blue Ribbon Sushi, Scarpetta, or Grimaldi's?). Often, though, my curiosity gets the better of me and I give in after sampling a respectable amount of local specialties. (I'm not saying I burn out on regional foods, but that after, say, a week of eating laksa, char kway teow, and hawker fare, I feel less guilty about trying a Singaporean Pizza Hut.)

So it was with The Bird, a "New York style bar and steakhouse," which did a good job at reproducing the Saturday night Brooklyn dining experience. The best reservations we could get on short notice were for 10pm (at least they take reservations–Germans are obsessed with reservations–I don't think you can even dine without them) and we still had to wait for a spell at the bar, which never bothers me if I have a stool to park my aging self.

The bird da birdhouse

I wasn't there to eat a pricey corn-fed steak imported from Iowa, but the 11.50 Euro burger that I had read raves about, claims that it wasn't only the best burger in Berlin, but possibly ever in the universe.  Really?

We were there to tackle the two griddled burgers (there are also a number of grilled burgers with creative toppings), Da Birdhouse, a house burger, so to speak, and The Big Crack, a take on the McDonald's classic. My original intent to split and share was thwarted by their oozing sprawl, so I stuck with Da Birdhouse.

The bird the big crack

Here's what The Big Crack looks like, though.

I initially scoffed at the tough-guy admonishment on the menu "At least TRY eating the damn burger with your hands. All you uptight people with your forks and your knives are driving us crazy." But I could almost, just almost, see the impossibility of eating these monsters out of hand without the whole mess spilling out all over the table. For the record, I do shamelessly eat pizza with fork and knife, usually plastic. I will never fold and I will never cave.

That message to fussy locals was unheeded, by the way. Everyone was not only using forks and knives, but mutilating their burgers. I was dumbfounded by the woman who had removed her top bun, scraped off the entire tuft of guacamole (they made a big deal on the menu about how it's hard to source avocados) and was just cutting away at the patty.

The other signal that this isn't really New York-style at all is the mayonnaise that accompanies the fries, so randomly hand cut, it's like a sampler for those who enjoy both shoestrings and steak fries.

The bird da birdhouse insides

The meat, two-patties-worth, is a super loose grind and packed lightly, hence the mess. The greasiness is divine and melds with the generous amount of oozing American cheese, my favorite aspect of a burger, or rather, cheeseburger. Dripping cheese and grease is the whole point (I'll never understand meat and bun only purists). Da Bird's closest American kin would be In-N-Out's Double Double, and due to its extra beefiness, a notch above. It really didn't need bacon and caramelized onions, though, because there was excess aplenty as it was.

My only beef (sorry, it's Christmas Eve and my guard is down) was the absence of a straightforward bun. An English muffin isn’t un-American, it’s not just my first choice. I'm all for mayonnaise-dipped fries, but certain liberties just can't be taken. That the odd choice of starch did not detract in the least, proves the strength of Da Bird. I can't declare it the best; it wouldn't feel right, but I wouldn't be embarrassed recommending a New Yorker-run restaurant serving $15 cheeseburgers to visitors–after you've had your fill of sausages and schnitzel, of course.

German mcrib box
German mcrib

If you want to be totally American in Berlin you can pick up a McRib–all-year-round. Germany is the only country in the world with the limited-edition sandwich permanently on the menu.

The Bird * Am Falkplatz 5, Berlin, Germany

Bier’s Kudamm 195

Even if you don’t like hotdogs (I don’t—and while anyone who has only read things I’ve posted this week would think that I’m finicky, hotdogs and melon are seriously the only two foods I actively avoid) you must try a currywurst if you’re in Berlin.

Biers currywurst

Sure, it’s pretty much a fried wiener sliced into bite sized pieces, doused in ketchup sprinked with curry powder, and served with a roll on the side. You can order the dish with skinless or skin-on franks, though it was the grease-coated, crisped-up casing that I thought made the currywurst with a little textural contrast against the sweet, mildly spiced sauce. I only regret not ordering fries because the bright red goo would be a perfect dip.

Biers facadeYou can find currywurst anywhere any time of day or night. I just happened to pick Bier's, just outside the Friedrichstraße S-Bahn station, because it was near where I was staying and I had heard they made their own sauce unlike many others.

If anything, I was impressed at the rampant use of real plates and glassware, here and at other fast food and outdoor eateries around the city (at the Christmas markets you had to pay a 1.50-2 Euro deposit on the gluwein mugs) as well as the local penchant for eating and drinking outdoors, despite rain and near freezing temperatures.

Bier's Kudamm 195, Friedrichstraße 142, Am Eingang S-Bahnhof Berlin, Germany

What’s In a Name?

Maybe I’m just blanking-out, but I can’t really think of a slew of bars and restaurants in NYC named after famous people (Jack Dempsey? Chez Josephine?). In Berlin, homages run rampant. I’m certain there are many more than what I encountered during my brief visit because it wasn’t like I was seeking them out, I just stumbled upon them.

I ate at Renger Patzsch (flammkuchen!) named after a German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch and had cocktails at a ring-the-doorbell speakeasy, Becketts Kopf, with the only identifier being a picture of Samuel Beckett in the window.

Also: Tarantino’s Bar, Jules Verne, The Oscar Wilde, Diener-Tattersal (Franz Diener was a German boxer), Newton Bar (as in Helmut), and Joseph-Roth-Diele (Jewish Austrian writer).

This is all I have time to say about food and drink at this very moment (other non-food-related Berlin generalizations are here). There are always photos, of course.


Henne facade

Fried chicken is not the first (or the second or third) foodstuff that springs to mind when I think of Berlin. Yet Henne, basic in menu (chicken, potato salad, cabbage salad, and meatballs are just about it) maximalist in décor (all of aged dark wood, stained glass, antlers, and steins Americans associate with Germany) turned out to be one of my favorite meals. I love excess and outré combinations, but sometimes simple is the way to go.

Henne potato salad

You have to drink Bavarian landbier in a chunky ceramic mug. You don’t have to order individual potato salads or the cabbage salad at all, though you might get a funny look from your waitress and you'll definitely be in the minority among fellow diners. One mayo-heavy kartoffel was plenty to share, I thought.

Henne chicken

Do order your own half chicken, though, because that’s the whole point. Even knife-and-fork-crazed locals tear through the crackly, heavily salted skin into the juicy meat with their hands. The chicken manages to be different—hunkier and lighter—yet just as good as my favorite fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.

Henne interior

I did wonder here and elsewhere  if the number of seasonal tchotkes (though it's not evident in this photo) and touches like the red tartan tablecloth were just for Christmas or permanent fixtures.

Henne * Leuschnerdamm 25, Berlin, Germany