A German Culinary Odyssey on Cumberland Ave.
I daresay goulash, schnitzel and dumplings? Homemade rye bread and liptauer cheese with cornichons and capers? Spaetzle and caramelized onions under melted Emmentaler or the bratwurst platter with all the fixings?
These uber old school dishes herald from a charming new restaurant called Schulte & Herr — tucked into a humble space along the inauspicious nether lands of Cumberland Avenue.
Their arrival, however, shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a culinary newsmaker. Instead, what‘s relevant is that this very modest 16-seat European cafe is serving absolutely delicious home-style, homemade German food.
It’s certainly comfort food to the hilt, the kind we think we’ll have from our favorite diners but never do. Dispel, too, the notion that Germanic cooking is heavy; here the chef displays a light, elegant touch with these Continental classics..
I first noticed the sign while driving by a while ago and saw the banner above the front door. At first glance the name sounded like a law firm, but the writing on the blackboard in front of the restaurant brought it into focus: Homemade German Food.
My first lunch of beef goulash with bread dumplings and roasted beets was so good I returned the next day for more. This time I had the beer-braised beef sandwich with whole grain mustard, horseradish sauce and house pickles. Tender thin slices of beef were served on a buttery roll that made ordinary buns seem like sawdust. And the slightly sweet-sour house pickles garnishing the dish were as good as the best farm-stand variety.
I couldn’t resist the dessert special either. It was rich vanilla custard topped with candy-sweet nuggets of fresh pumpkin compote. Now that was comfort food straight out of the nursery — worth middle-age indulgence. The desserts change every few days, and rumor has it that the apple strudel is not to be missed.
This past Sunday the restaurant served brunch for the first time. Its quickly acquired following took notice and we were lucky to slip into the last table at noontime.
We shared a first course of pickled mackerel with beet horseradish and German-style potato salad. The fish was brilliantly cured and the beet infused horseradish (all freshly made) and potatoes were the perfect complements.
As a main course my friend chose the house-cured lox with potato pancakes. If you’re ever tempting fate in a restaurant, potato pancakes can go awry easily. These, as expected, were gentle renditions — prudently sautéed to produce a delectable crust. With the house-cured salmon wrapped around them, a touch of sour cream and capers for balance they were sublime.
My choice was the Sunday Roast. The sweet spot here were tender, flavorful slices of roast pork loin touched with luscious mushroom gravy — the kind you’d expect in fancier places.
The accompanying potato dumplings, the warhorse of any German kitchen, were another example of the light touch that this chef achieves. Perfect round orbs were gently poached to emerge solid but delicate and still richly old-fashioned. For a slight touch of sweetness, the caramelized slices of roasted squash offered just the right contrast.
The people responsible for all this goodness are a husband and wife team, Brian and Steffie Davin who named their restaurant after the surnames of each of their respective families.
Brian is a classically trained chef, American born of German descent with years cooking in Berlin restaurants. His wife, German born, runs the front of the house and bakes all those delicious breads.
As a leitmotif in a marginal neighborhood, Schulte and Herr, however much a start-up establishment for now, is a welcome addition to an otherwise serious hierarchy of Portland dining.
Schulte & Herr, 349 Cumberland Avenue, open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday and Sunday brunch. 207-773-1997
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