59 Bank Street | New Milford, CT
By Lisa Kelsey
German food has a rather limited reputation in this country – frat boy friendly, Oktoberfest fare, filling but boring. That’s unfortunate. As someone who has traveled extensively in Germany and sampled the regional cuisine, I can tell you it has much more going for it. It may be “sturdy,” but it’s certainly not uninteresting, often quite delicious – even sophisticated – other times as comforting as a hug from grandma (or should I say “Oma”). If airline tickets to Deutschland are not in your near future don’t despair, a mere thirty minutes from Pawling in the charming town of New Milford, you can trick your taste buds into thinking they’re dining at the local rathskeller in Frankfurt.
The Alpenhaus on Bank Street offers a well-balanced selection of German regional specialties like the familiar beef stew Sauerbraten, and the omnipresent (although Austrian) Schnitzel as well as a few less well-known, like Schweinshaxe, a slow-roasted pork shank, and thinly-sliced Beef Rouladen served with mustard, bacon, and German pickles. The menu is perhaps a bit heavily weighted toward meats (well, certain stereotypes do happen to have some truth to them), but there is an intriguing vegetarian schnitzel option described as “two potato pancakes stuffed with fresh vegetables in a cream sauce,” and there is also Gemüsenudeln, a dish reminiscent of a pasta primavera. Other regional specialties like “Münchener Brat Hendl,” a simple half of a roasted free-range chicken, are augmented with pan-European favorites like Chicken Cordon Bleu and the ever-popular Goulash. The three sauces that can be added to your order of schnitzel for an extra three dollars – mushroom and red wine, creamy mushroom, or spicy bell pepper, are repurposed as topping choices for a grilled black angus steak. Lighter appetites will be satisfied by something from the sandwich and salad portion of the menu.
Scanning the appetizers, my eye wandered from the Frikadellen, beef and pork patties, to the currywurst, over to the potato pancakes, finally settling on the fried, beer-battered cheese curds. Although not a traditional German recipe – very few (if any) recipes from that part of the world involve deep frying – they are at least a Teutonic-inspired cousin of the deep-fried mozzarella stick. Although I’ve never seen them before, I’m told they are found everywhere in Wisconsin and other upper-Midwestern states heavily populated by people of German descent. My decidedly non-cast-iron-coated stomach did a bit of a flip when they were brought to the table, but it needn’t have. How a morsel of cheese can be covered in a mixture of beer and flour, subjected to a bath in 370º oil, and emerge so remarkably grease-free is to me a mystery on the level of what makes the next tissue pop up from a box of Kleenex. They were served with a creamy dipping sauce, but I was only too happy to pop those vaguely porcine-shaped tidbits into my mouth just as they were. (And no stomach ache ensued).
My husband and son both ordered the schnitzel, made from the traditional veal, or chicken or pork. The elder Kelsey ordered the veal as an entrée that came with spaetzle and red cabbage; the younger chose the chicken version served on a pretzel bun. The sandwich came with a side of deep golden-brown fries, thick, unpeeled, square cut, salted to perfection and absolutely divine. (I seldom order fries but am perfectly willing to snag a few from my dining partners.) I channeled my inner twelve-year-old and ordered what I often did while traveling in Germany with my parents as a child – the wurst platter. At the Alpenhaus this included knackwurst, weisswurst and bratwurst sausages nestled on a pillow of mashed potatoes skirted with sauerkraut. I missed that satisfying knife pop you get when you slice into a steaming hot sausage – they were rather lukewarm, but no one else at the table had that complaint of their food. Temperature aside, this simple dish did its job well, transporting me as it did back to my youth. I can honestly say I’ve had wurst. (I’ll be here all week folks!).
Given what I ordered I probably should have availed myself of the “Bier List” which is short but varied, including a hefeweiss, a dunkel, a few stouts, IPAs, hard ciders, bocks and ales. Instead I went for a glass of my favorite snappy white, Grüner Veltliner. It would have paired better with what my husband ordered, but I don’t see it on menus often and I couldn’t resist its citrusy allure on a hot summer day. Known among aficionados as GruVe (pronounced “groovy”), it’s actually an Austrian wine. In addition to the schnitzel, it would also be a good choice with many of the other menu items, particularly the egg noodles with smoked salmon and spinach in a cream sauce. If you like a crisp, peppery, white with just a hint of peachy sweetness, you may want to try it. The wine list did include a couple of German wines, but most were imported from no further away than California.
The three of us, stuffed as we were, still managed to put away a huge slice of perfect chocolate cake for dessert.
In the dining room, the exposed brick walls are studded with all the German restaurant signifiers you might expect: shelves of decorative beer steins, hunting trophies, two shadow box frames housing a child-size pair of lederhosen and a dirndl – even a couple of cuckoo clocks, one of which chimed while we were dining (three minutes late according to our watches, prompting jokes of missed German trains). Medieval-castle-looking chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling, giving the place a kind of Game of Thrones vibe. All in all, a nice effort to replicate an old-world Germanic atmosphere.
Downstairs, the Steinbock Tavern has more of a rustic sports bar feel, cooler, dimmer and with several TV screens. The website lists events including live German music and trivia nights, and you’ll find any current FIFA soccer matches (especially USA vs. Germany!) on the screens.