Monday, June 12, 2006

Warm Pretzels, Hot Schnitzel and Cold Beer in the West Village

Can Germany Be As Close As Grove Street?

I can remember working in Berlin several years ago, and loving the neighborhood biergartens. Most everyone who entered was immediately recognized by the proprietor and menus were rarely distributed… only a chalkboard on the wall would inform patrons of what might have changed since yesterday… the last time they were there. It had the feel of someone’s living room rather than a restaurant.

What really amazed me was how these establishments were located deep into the quiet, green, tree-lined streets of the city. Even more astonishing was how at home each establishment felt in it’s suburban surroundings.

It wasn’t long before I moved to NYC that I stumbled across a real German biergarten… and as you might guess, it is located on a quiet, green, tree-lined street in the West Village.

Lederhosen is one of those places you visit once, and label “your secret find”. I had a feeling the place would be authentic when I spotted the HB sign hanging as if the place was in Frankfurt or Berlin. But as I scooted down the narrow entry I realized I may have hit the holy grail of beer and sausage. My instincts we correct.

It is a decidedly campy yet charming space… with a cramped wooden bar space that makes way to a larger, open room with picnic benches and four tops. The walls are painted with an enormous mural resembling something out of the Sound of Music, and on game days a giant projection screen hangs in the rear, with some type of sporting event… these days, it’s the World Cup. Following the formula of beer, sports and sausage, you can see how they have become one of the city’s better destinations.

Where to start? Well, first with the beer.

You won’t find Coors Light on tap here friends. Lederhosen carries one of the finest German beer collections in the city, available in three sizes: klein, gross, and mass, which is a mug the size of a hot tub. With beers like Weihenstephaner, Spaten, Jever, Dinckelacker, Dortmunder, Radeberger and HB München, you’ll likely find whatever you’re looking for. Add about 10 others and what you have is a veritable smorgasbord of suds. For those looking to tap and snack, you can order a 5-litre keg and a plate of sausages for about $50… an amazing deal considering you’ll need a group of friends to begin to put a dent in that much brew. Generally speaking, beer drinkers consider Lederhosen to be one of the best beer buys in the city, with beers ranging from $3-$7 bucks… in the big mugs.

As much as I love the beer, the food wins my heart. I always start with a hot pretzel (ask for no salt if you wish) accompanied by a side of creamy, sweet German zenf (or mustard).

The menu has so many options, many opt for combo plates, with numerous varieties of delicious goodies including knackwurst, bauernwurst, weisswurst, bratwurst, currywurst and kielbasa. They serve tangy snap skin wieners on crusty rolls (perfect with your cold beer on a Saturday afternoon) as well as fantastic cold cut sandwiches with string beans and cucumbers. Make no bones about it, the sausages are terrific and not your grocery store variety. It doesn’t take long to realize you’re eating authentic stuff.

The hot dishes continue to include a host of German favorites, like Koenigsberger Klopse (Beef and Pork) with potatoes, tart sauerkraut and lemon caper sauce, Rindergoulasch (beefstew), Kassler Rippchen (smoked pork chops), Schweinbraten (pork) served over brown gravy and my favorite…. Weiner Schnitzel (fried chicken, pork or veal) cutlet with a side order of spaetzle.

Let’s talk spaetzle a moment, shall we?

I love love love good spaetzle, and the variety at Lederhosen is different, but doesn’t disappoint. Those used to small, round drops of dough will do a double take when you see the longer, pasta like version severed here with great care. Tossed in a bit of brown butter, the dish is a perfect accompaniment and can also stand on it’s own as a great afternoon schnack.

If in fact you can get to dessert, you’ll find a nice selection of homemade goodies, including black forest and German chocolate cakes… but in this joint, I’d almost rather order another helping of potato pancakes and a bucket of beer. Sweets are sweets, but good German food must be taken advantage of vigorously.

Tips? As you might guess, Lederhosen gets packed, so your first visit may want to be on a weekday afternoon, or Saturday or Sunday afternoon before the others roll out of bed. They keep very late hours (some nights until 4am) so the vibe midday is cool and laidback.

Sure there are great German biergartens in NYC, but for my money Lederhosen is winning my heart. I guess I’ll have to make a second visit to Zum Schneider, Loreley, and Heidelberg to solidify my findings. Cheers.

39 Grove St
New York, Ny 10014
(212) 206-7691
(212) 206-8562 (Fax)
Cross Street: Between Bedford Street and Bleecker Street
Directions: 1, 9 to Sheridan Square or the A, B, C, D, E, F, V to West 4th