No one can accuse the Germans of dining daintily. In fact, after sharing three appetizers, including a soup and a salad, the four of us were ready to polish off our beers, push back from the table, and split. We’d downed a pair of dark sausages bulging with veal and dried cherries that went by the tongue-tying name of reh-kirschwuerstchen ($7.50). Next to them sprawled about a pound of what the menu refers to as German potato salad, but instead of the usual austere concoction of white vinegar, bacon, and cold boiled spuds, this recipe kicked it up a notch with an onslaught of thick mayo. Two hands were needed to hoist each heavy forkful. We were reeling with fat and carbs even before digging in to the so-called salad, Bayarischen ochsenmaul ($8). The magnificent heap was mainly pink shavings of compressed cow muzzle glinting yellow with gelatin. Sweet purple onions constituted the vegetable part. “Do we need a dressing?” I asked the dirndl-draped waitress. “I think it might already be dressed with meat juices,” she replied, wrinkling her nose as she gazed at the strange edible mass. The third appetizer, a potato soup laced with cheddar and speck (lean smoked bacon), proved light by comparison.
As the century-old German American restaurants of Queens neighborhoods like Middle Village and Richmond Hill have been disappearing, they’ve been replaced with newfangled places—mainly in Lower Manhattan—that emphasize tap beer and a limited menu of wursts and schnitzels. Now along comes Bay Ridge’s Schnitzel Haus, larding a lengthier menu with all sorts of modern and traditional dishes from the fatherland, many rarely seen in New York. A blonde fräulein hoisting a tray of brews greets you from the sign outside. The premises are all dark polished woods and smoke-colored tin ceilings, and the long bar is more likely to be full than the dozen or so tables, except on weekend evenings when the place crawls with elderly German Americans.
There are schnitzels, of course. These breaded and fried cutlets come in chicken, pork, and veal variations. If you savor any of these meats, order the cutlets plain. Once the heavy toppings are applied, they all taste the same. Jaegerschnitzel, for example, is a pair of pork cutlets that might be mistaken for shoe soles, smothered in dark mushroom gravy. You’ll be grabbing paper napkins to wipe most of it off. Sided with decent french fries and a perfunctory green salad, the plain veal wiener schnitzel ($18) is the way to go.
Gravy is not always your enemy, though. One of the best things on the menu is found in the catalogic Schweinefleisch (pork) section of the menu. Named after Munich’s famous beer garden, Schweinshaxe Hofbrauhaus ($19) is a towering pork shank that comes plated in a moat of dark gravy, resembling a gnomish castle from Lord of the Rings. And there’s nothing better than pulling off a piece of crisp crackling and using it to ferry a draft of gravy to your greasy lips. Equally voluminous is a groaning sausage platter ($18) that includes a bratwurst, a knackwurst, a bauernwurst, a weisswurst, and a cudgel of kielbasa, sided with red cabbage, sauer-kraut, two mustards, and bland mashed potatoes. If you order either of these extreme pig-outs, please pretend you’re going to share them with someone else.