Take Two: Dinner at Schulte & Herr, Portland's German Standout
When Chef Brian Davin and his wife Steffie opened the exceedingly engaging Schulte and Herr restaurant on Cumberland Avenue in Portland last fall serving breakfast and lunch, word spread fast that we had a culinary wunderkind in our midst. This was no doppelganger for heavy Germanic cooking, but rather the chef showed an exceedingly light touch in his interpretation of his homeland’s classics.
At the time, I wrote about it first in this space, and the local press and blogosphere followed full circle. Here was an outpost serving the most engaging sort of comfort food without resorting to clichés of mac and cheese and meatloaf ad nauseam.
It was merely a matter of time before their popularity led them to offer a dinner menu, which debuted this year on the first of February and worth noting here.
The new dinner menu hits all the right notes. I went on the first night as Portland’s brick sidewalks were fast turning into sheets of ice, and the notion of a cup of borscht followed by sauerbraten seemed heaven sent.
By six-thirty the small, plain dining room was filling up fast. I went with several friends and we were able to sample quite a few new dishes.
The first course selections included borscht, potato pancakes with house cured salmon, a caramelized onion tart and a cold salad plate, a sort of European style hors d’ oeuvre varies.
I chose the cold salad plate, gemischter salatteler, a lovely melange of grated carrots and celery root in a remoulade style dressing, pickled beets, a puree of butternut squash enriched with cream cheese and a lentil salad. Each salad dollop was beautifully done, but the star of the show was clearly the squash with its silky enrichment of cream cheese folded into the puree.
My friends each had the borscht and the potato pancakes. The latter are some of the lightest examples of this dish, intensely good, cloudlike rounds that are crisp all at once. The borscht revealed a complex broth enhanced by the assertive flavor of oxtail enriching the deep red soup. It was a sensational version in a sea of soppy renditions that one is apt to encounter elsewhere.
Main courses included the wurstplatte, which is bratwurst, kielbasa, smoked ham with sauerkraut and German potato salad; rheinischer sauerbraten -— braised beef with apple, red cabbage and pan fried bread dumplings; fisch gulaasch — a heady fish stew of haddock, mussels and shrimp and finally an unusual dish called maultaschen, which are Swabian style ravioli with a spinach and ricotta filling served with roasted root vegetables and crispy onions. The pasta is bathed in melted butter and is a typical dish from Swabia, a region in Germany known for its hearty cooking.
Two of us chose the fish stew, which as my friend commented, “Was more delicious with every spoonful.” I agreed. The deep, rust-colored broth had strips of cabbage and potatoes and a colorful sprinkling of paprika.
My other dinner companion ordered the sauerbraten, which we all wanted to have but settled on siphoning off a few bites. The beef was marinated in red wine and juniper berries for several days and braised slowly until fork tender. The red cabbage, which is so often sweetened to death, was enlivened with a delicate scent of spices and a hint of sweetness. The accompanying bread dumplings are not to be missed, however. These are little round slices of bread that are puffy and pan-fried to a light golden color—cloudlike morsels that were irresistible.
For dessert we shared a very creamy cheesecake with Morello cherries.
I’ve taken many friends to Schulte & Herr where they’ve expected a heavy overwrought meal, but then marvel over how good everything is that comes out of this tiny, nearly makeshift kitchen.
The restaurant no longer serves breakfast but is open for lunch and dinner, making this neighborhood place a prime dinner destination no matter where you live.
Schulte & Herr, 349 Cumberland Ave., Portland, ME 207-773-1997
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org