New York City, NY

New York City's Haven for German Food Lovers

Michael Loren

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Heidelberg Restaurant on 82nd and 2nd was established in 1936 and, according to our server, is still owned and run by the same family that opened it. In the early 1900's, the surrounding area was known as "Germantown" (like Chinatown only with more saurkraut), but has since become unrecognizably gentrified. Heidelberg is the only remaining authentic German establishment from this early neighborhood. And boy, is it German.

My book club's theme last month was fairy tales, so in honor of the Brothers Grimm, we decided to hit up a German restaurant to have our discussion. I walked through Heidelberg's innocent white and brown entrance and was instantly slapped in the face with the German stick.

There were rows of portly men at the bar chugging steins of beer bigger than a bread box and singing some sort of polka to serenade a hearty-looking server in lederhosen. Yes, lederhosen. OMG. It was almost as cliche as the German corner of Epcot at Disney World. Check that. More cliche. For every missing Mickey fanny pack, there was a string of holiday lights and garland covered in dust from (potentially) 1936.

The food could be placed in one of two groups: salted or pickled. I guess that if anything, though, it was authentic. Back in the old days, food was served either fresh, pickled, or salted for preservation's sake, so these dishes, in that aspect, were authentically old school. I'm thinking people didn't mind so much back then, but these days, most diners prefer that their food have a much more complex flavor profile, authentic or not.

I ordered the baked camembert, smoked pork chops, and strudel. The camembert was breaded like a KFC drumstick before it was baked and was served with what I'm almost positive was canned pears. The pork chops were dry and had no flavor and pretty much everyone at the table agreed that if any part of any of our entrees was unidentifiable, there was a 75% chance that it was a potato.

The one redeeming course was the dessert. The strudel lived up to its Inglorious Bastards infamy and the chocolate fondue (shared by the table) was, well, it was melted chocolate. It's not that complicated (or hard to mess up, for that matter).

Despite the flavorless food (maybe I just am not a fan of German food), Heidelberg had a certain charm about it. It was obvious that the staff truly supported the success of the establishment as much as the local regulars and we had a nice enough experience to (almost) forget about the food.

I felt as if we had been welcomed into a bed and breakfast or a tavern a la Scarlet Pimpernel. The vibe of the restaurant was a genuine welcome-to-my-grandma's-kitchen vibe. And no matter what people cook and how good or bad the food is, when someone welcomes you into their kitchen and they feed you with recipes on which they were raised…you inevitably feel loved.

I realized that if I ever were to return to Heidelberg, I would be welcomed again, but more importantly, I was pretty sure the same people would be there and that they would remember me. That, my friends, goes a long way.

So yes, I might not be a huge fan of German food, but I realized that I am definitely a lover of German hospitality. For this foodie New Yorker, this was an eye-opening experience. Because I realized that the atmosphere of the restaurant is often just as important (or more important) than the pork chops.

Heidelberg was a place to hang out and discuss the day's events, a home away from home where your German Tante and Onkel take care of you for a bit. In their lederhosen.

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Professional writer and journalist with concentration in data analysis. I specialize in interpreting data to give you unbiased, understandable information related to the state of California.

Los Angeles, CA
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