I have a confession to make. I’ll do almost anything for a great hot dog or sausage, like the smoked bier brat at the new Café Berlin.
Rainer Matz, the certified Master Chef who just opened Café Berlin on W. Sunset Rd., is my new hero. He makes all his own sausages, and an amazing menu of classic German fare to accompany them; knockwurst and smoked beer brats, Nurmberger and bockwurst. Eat in or take out. This is sausage heaven, so who needs burgers.
We’ve already got German restaurants, Café Heidelberg for one, and the grandiose, overblown Hofbrauhaus for another. If you’re hoping for curvy German waitresses in dirndls, schmaltzy brass bands, or beer in frosty steins, forget it (though their beer and wine license is pending.)
What you will get at Café Berlin is terrific schnitzel, pretzels imported from the Vaterland, homemade strudel that would make oma weep and simply the best German food in the city, all made from scratch.
The café opened on a shoestring, evidenced by bridge chairs, unadorned tables, plastic ware, Styrofoam serving containers and distinct lack of atmosphere.
Matz envisions putting in a stammtisch, a round table where locals who frequent the place can sit and socialize, and wants to add dishes such as German style trout and sauerbraten to his menu. But that’s all in the future. For now, he just wants to get the word out. No problem.
So far, most of the business has been at lunch, when customers are coming in force for giant sandwiches, half-pound monsters using Matz’ house cured pastrami, or American stuff like roast turkey or beef, done on the house pretzel bread or fresh roll, for a ridiculous $7.95.
You can have a schnitzel sandwich, too, a breaded pork cutlet so light that you could sit on it and not get a grease stain on your trousers. My personal fave, the bier brat, is a smoky sausage best consumed with a flurry of grilled onions. Hope you aren’t going to the office after lunch.
I’ve dined here just before the restaurant’s 8 p.m. closing time, when I found the room unreasonably quiet. One night I had Zigeuner schnitzel, that same pork cutlet smothered with a spicy paprika sauce.
Another, I had the chef’s incredible bockwurst, a light veal sausage similar to a weisswurst, Munich’s famous before noon treat. Try it with curry sauce, a combination that Germans call curry wurst, street food that you eat on any corner in that country, at the schnell imbiss, which means “fast food stand.”
Matz is justifiably proud of the house made sauces that blanket some of his schnitzels. Mushroom gravy turns it into Jaeger schnitzel, eaten with tiny flour and egg dumplings called spaetzle. Top one with capers and lemon, and it become Wiener schnitzel. Get the idea?
If pork isn’t your thing, Matz stuffs a chicken breast with ham, cheese and a touch of cranberry, and coats it with a crispy crust, Cordon Bleu style. The homemade sauerkraut, flecked with caraway seed, is also a must here. A true German kraut has a sharp sourness to it, and there’s a reason for it. You need the acidity to cut the richness of the dishes. I love sauerkraut, but hey, for some, it’s probably an acquired taste.
Don’t leave without trying one of the strudels, blueberry poppy seed, cherry, or apple, the latter studded with walnuts and raisins. They are served hot, with a warm vanilla sauce also made in house, a custardy sauce that you’ll want to eat by itself, from a plastic cup.
I can’t emphasize enough, how delicious this food is, or how excited I will be to try the sauerbraten, when Matz finally gets a steady enough clientele to justify making it.
P.S. You can buy his sausages to go, in pre-packed vacuum packs. I plan to be a regular sausage eater from here on out.
Café Berlin, 4850 Sunset Rd. 875-4605. www.cafeberlinlv.com.
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