A few months ago, I realized that I know next to nothing about German cuisine. I've never tried cooking it at home. I've never browsed cookbooks on it. I never seek it out at restaurants. All of which makes zero sense, considering Teutonic taste seems almost designed to appeal to my food ideology. Fresh sausage, fried meat, fermented vegetables... what's not to love?
So that's what brings me to Edelweiss, an unassuming Bradenton restaurant that cranks out a host of German classics alongside American standbys like burgers and BLTs. From the outside, the restaurant doesn't seem like much, but when we step inside, I know we're in capable hands.
First off, the owners have wisely decided to turn off the restaurant's ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights, instead relying on a half-dozen or so lamps to generate a softer, relaxed vibe, a nice break from the punishing sunshine outside. A fake flame flickers in a fake fireplace in one corner, while a bookshelf stocked with German translations of Flaubert and Henry Miller sits up front. Decorative plates and steins add just the right amount of Euro kitsch.
Foregoing all the boring American standards, we order. My wife, Rachel, digs into the Bavarian schnitzel ($8.90) first, while I slice open my weisswurst ($7.90). The veal sausage comes from Geiers in Sarasota, but Edelweiss makes its bratwurst and knackwurst in house. Touted on the menu as "very low in sodium and fat," the pale weisswurst offers a supremely smooth texture and packs big flavor, accentuated perfectly with a dip in the grainy, spicy mustard our server brings out with lunch.
On the side of that sausage are a medium-sized pretzel with a taut crust dusted with big salt crystals, and sauerkraut. I learned about kraut-making for a column last year, and the experience significantly upped my love for the stuff. The only sauerkraut I knew before then was the crushingly acidic varieties slopped on hot dogs all over the country, but well-crafted kraut possesses a subtle, and strange, brew of flavors. Edelweiss' version is terrific, with a strong cabbage flavor and a hint of sweetness sorely lacking in the supermarket types.
To make its Bavarian schnitzel, the restaurant crusts a thin slab of pork with mustard and bread and then fries it to perfection, establishing a crunchy exterior while preserving the juice of the meat inside. Bread dumplings served on the side offer a refreshing contrast, offering a hint of dessert with a pinch or two of nutmeg. And the red cabbage! Colored a deep purple, the cabbage is stewed to the point where it melts in your mouth. And yeah, the whole thing comes with pork gravy. It is good.
To finish things off there is rote grütze, a starchy berry mass set in a pool of luscious vanilla sauce and topped with whipped cream. It's less sweet than most American pies or cakes, which really lets the fruit shine. A wonderful way to end a meal. "I'm berry pleased," Rachel says.
Did I learn anything enlightening about German cuisine? Perhaps. I learned enough to know I want to learn more.