|$25 AND UNDER
Where a Student Prince Could Go to Cram
|By JULIA MOSKIN
|Published: June 9, 2004
It has been a long time since a restaurant opened in New York with fresh liverwurst on the menu: the city's old-fashioned German restaurants, kitschy temples to sauerbraten and schlag, have been steadily wilting away.
But two lively urban beer gardens, with waitresses in denim instead of dirndls, have established a German outpost on the Lower East Side: Zum Schneider a couple of years ago, and Loreley, which opened with a simple but satisfying menu in December. With wursts from Schaller & Weber, the traditional German butcher in Yorkville, Loreley caters to New York's downtown expatriate German community and the hipsters who love them and their beer.
German food can be a hard sell. It is deeply unfashionable, pleasing neither Atkins types (all that starch!) nor low-fat reactionaries (all that meat!). Loreley is a hymn to carbohydrates and fat: well-made mashed potatoes; excellent sour bread; thick, springy spaetzle noodles; and juicy sausages with just the right snap.
Many menu items are variations on the sausage theme: plump bratwurst, liverwurst seasoned with a hit of spice and served with crunchy cornichons, slim hot-dog-like würstchen, even "currywurst," a Berlin street-food specialty of sliced bratwurst covered with a ketchup-based, curry-spiced sauce. The dish, served with a mound of French fries and greasy in the most irresistible way, reeks of late nights and youthful indiscretion.
Bratwurst are cooked on a griddle ("brat" means fried or roasted), but most German sausages are boiled, like the classic New York street-vendor hot dog. When boiled sausages are served very fresh and very hot, they are as savory and juicy as any Shanghai soup dumpling.
Loreley's sausage platter comfortably feeds two for $15; it's a classic composition of three kinds of wurst, mashed potatoes and shreds of red cabbage simmered in vinegar, the perfect counterpoint to meat and potatoes. Another plate a pair of sausages and a mound of surprisingly light potato salad, spiked with onions and parsley makes a perfect meal with a tall, cloudy weissbier, the lemony brew that is a German summer classic. Even a bowl of oniony potato soup comes with a sausage perched alongside.
The owner, Michael Momm, grew up in Cologne, where the local brew is light, hoppy kölsch, served at Loreley in slim glasses, like Champagne, to preserve the effervescence. The restaurant's scoured birch tables and its crisp potato pancakes are also typical of Cologne's pubs.
Seasonal or not, two rich stews are the best things on the menu at Loreley: a creamy veal goulash and classic chicken paprika, properly redolent of caraway, a pungent spice rarely seen in American kitchens except on a slice of rye bread.
I enjoyed the stews so heartily (perhaps too heartily indulging in the beer at Loreley might not give you a hangover, but the food might) and returned on my next visit with high hopes for sauerbraten and Wiener schnitzel. Like many German restaurants, Loreley uses pork instead of veal in its schnitzel, an authentic choice, but not an improvement. American pork is just too lean to stay tender when breaded and deep-fried. The sauerbraten was dry and stringy, one of those dishes where you feel as if you are chewing for hours after each bite.
The better desserts are sensibly simple, among them vanilla ice cream with chocolate or raspberry sauce, stuck with a cinnamon-spiked wafer cookie. Cheesecake is a feeble attempt, and the apple strudel in cold and leathery.
During off hours, almost as much German as English is spoken. Among conversations in German one sunny evening, a tall, barefoot fellow wearing a Jennifer Aniston shag and a dog collar discussed the future of heavy metal with a gray-haired hippie in tiny shorts and clunky sandals; at another table, a red-haired young mother from Berlin jiggled a stroller and sipped German white wine. But later on, the picnic tables outside are usually colonized by cheerful young New Yorkers.
Loreley calls itself a biergarten, but the "garten" part is a bit of a fraud: the only green is on the umbrellas advertising German beers. But Bowery traffic is far away, the wursts are hot, the beer is cold and the waitresses are engaging enough for a real biergarten. Just don't call any of these hip young women "fräulein." (The term is now considered patronizing the word for waitress is kellnerin). And don't expect them to carry 10 foam-topped steins in each hand. They use trays.
7 Rivington Street (Bowery); (212) 253-7077
BEST DISHES Bratwurst; liverwurst; potato soup; spaetzle; chicken paprika; potato pancakes; goulash; ice cream with chocolate or raspberry sauce.
PRICE RANGE Appetizers, $4 to $7; main courses, $9 to $17 ($21 for organic prime steak).
CREDIT CARDS All major cards.
HOURS Monday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday, 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to midnight.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS Step at entrance and garden; restrooms on dining level