Thursday, September 13, 2012
Let’s cut to the schnitzel: Stammtisch is not so much a place to eat as it is an experience, one driven by the thoroughly Austrian and amiable co-owner-waiter-ambassador Erwin Moritz and reinforced by the invitingly timeworn decor, an experience I could imagine growing more personal should I keep frequenting the restaurant’s old wooden chairs. This is no coincidence, for that sentiment is part of the menu’s “declaration” of Stammtisch, whose root word stamm is a bit of German which describes the kind of patron who frequents a business with unrelenting loyalty.
Now’s as fun a time to go as any – contrary to popular belief, Oktoberfest actually starts in September (though Stammtisch has a celebration complete with live music by Alpine Trio, dancing and a drinking contest Oct. 6). But be warned: Don’t go if you’re in a hurry; the portions take about as much time to come out of the kitchen as they do to eat. Don’t go if you’re not very hungry; the food is rich and filling (though it keeps well as leftovers, too). Do drink beer, as much as you’re comfortable drinking; you can drink iced tea or soda anywhere, but you can’t get so many German brews on tap and under one roof anywhere else in town. Eat with total disregard for your arteries; the phrase “fried in butter” appears multiple times on the menu, which should enliven, not dissuade. And make sure you’ve paid all your bills before going, as the prices are on the steep side. After tip, my solo lunch was $32, and dinner and drinks for four was something like $140.
For lunch the soup of the day was cream of vegetable, arriving in a white china bowl of a milieux found at grandma’s house. Hot, rich and thick, it’s almost like a buttery gravy in consistency, fortified with some carrot and potato and onion. Stout wheat bread and vat of butter comes out with the soup.
The decades-old Stammtisch, Moritz says, reopened for lunch this spring. He runs the place with his German wife and Stammtisch Chef Claudia.
A bell rings and food’s up, in mammoth portions. Erwin delivers the wurstteller, a sausage trifecta with sides ($17.95). The sausages are served atop a mound of warm sauerkraut decorated with little mustard seeds and a heap of fried potato coins and crispy onions. The Nürnberger bratwurst is thin and tender, peppery, kind of like a breakfast sausage. The smoked brat is reddish like a hot dog, smokey and satisfying. The Bavarian brat is grislier than others, but it has girth and pairs well with German mustard. There was so much food I had to take a break from eating.
Erwin imports all the sausage from the motherland, along with the beer (a lunchtime draught of König pilsner runs $5.95) – and if you’re into beer, it’s worth going into Stammtisch for the brews alone. Erwin keeps Hofbrau, König, Spaten and Franziskaner on tap and half a dozen other German imports in the fridge. Each type of beer is served in the appropriate glassware, which wouldn’t seem like it matters much, but it does.
By the time Erwin clears my plate I’m totally stuffed. He tells me I should next stop by for the Oktoberfest celebration but a week or so later I return with a klatch of people for dinner.
We start with soup, a cream of broccoli today, which is included in the cost of lunch, but for dinner sells for $3.95 a bowl. The dinner menu is more robust than the lunchtime offerings. My pal Kael ordered the hausplate ($19.95), revealing a smorgasbord of schnitzel, bratwurst, sauerkraut, spaetzle, gravy and home fries. I decided on Claudia’s hausschnitzel – a thick piece of pork steak which maintained its crisp breading despite being smothered in gravy, mushrooms and cheese ($19.95 with a side of spaetzel). The girls drank Radler (a refreshing blend of lager and Sprite, $5.95), and ended up taking home most of their meals in Styrofoam boxes. Vegetarian Lauren had an easy time selecting an entree since there was basically one thing for her on the menu, the meatless vegetariner platte ($14.95), which comes loaded with spaetzle and gravy, a huge dumpling, lots of fried potatoes and an assortment of cabbages and sauerkrauts, good enough to make her say “I didn’t feel like I was missing out at all” amid the feast of fried meats. Sasha ordered Stammtischschnitzel, a pork steak smothered in mushrooms, bacon and onions ($17.95), which she proceeded to douse in gravy stolen from the rest of the plates on the table.
Though we each ordered off a different region of the menu, all of our meals had only subtle variations on the same theme, which wasn’t surprising but doubles as my only gripe with the food.
If there is still a case to be made for the American Dream, it can be made by this nation’s immigrants. Often brave and entrepreneurial, they arrive in this country to get their own slice of the apple pie, to forge for themselves at once a life, a future and a home. If there is any more exemplary a place to see the fruits of such labor, it is Stammtisch, owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team who came to this country long ago and have been cooking up their own version of happiness ever since.
STAMMTISCH 1204 Echo Ave., Seaside. • 11:30am to 2pm Tuesday to Friday; 5-9pm Tuesday to Sunday; closed Mondays. •899-3070, www.stammtisch-seaside.com