Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to German Cuisine

Categories: Here, Eat This

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Photo by Troy Fields
Johann Sitter offers German food and beer at King's Biergarten in Pearland.
Modern-day Texans may not see much German influence when they look around, but the indirect effects of decades of German settlement still linger in large pockets of the state.

The first waves of German immigration began in the 1830s ahead of the European Revolutions of 1848 that sent floods of Forty-Eighters -- German, Austrian and other Central European political dissidents -- to the United States. Over 180 years later, Germans are still the largest European ethnic group in Texas, and count as the third-largest national-origin group behind Hispanics.

See also:
- Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Argentine Cuisine
- Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Nigerian Cuisine
- Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Korean Cuisine
- Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Indian Cuisine

We can trace many of these immigrants back to Johann Friedrich Ernst, a gardener from Oldenburg who became the father of the German settlers in Texas after obtaining a land grant for 4,000 acres in Austin County in 1831 -- an area which would become known as the "nucleus of the German Belt" in Central Texas. Ernst wrote "America letters" to his countrymen describing the bounty of land, livestock, wild game and fish that made Texas "an earthly paradise."

And although those letters were more than a bit optimistic, Texans still view their state as an earthly paradise today -- in no small part because of fine food and drink such as our beer, our barbecue and our chicken fried steak. We have Germans to thank for all of that.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Bratwurst

If you like the link sausages in Central Texas-style barbecue, you'll probably love bratwurst and the many other styles of sausage found throughout Germany. At its most simple, a bratwurst is a sausage made from finely ground pork, beef or veal, but there are at least 40 different varieties around Germany -- each made different by the blend of meats, herbs and spices and its individual preparation (grilled, fried, boiled, smoked, etc.) There's even a variety of bratwurst that's made with raw eggs and grilled over burning pinecones.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Sauerkraut and red cabbage

Sauerkraut is a wonderous food. It's full of vitamins, keeps your digestive system running smoothly thanks to plenty of lactobacilli and it's able to be preserved for long periods of time (i.e., German winters). No wonder the fermented cabbage came to be such a staple in the German diet, just as kimchi is to Koreans. There's even research to suggest that sauerkraut contains cancer-fighting agents. In case you've only ever had sauerkraut or its prettier, more perfumed cousin -- red cabbage, stewed down with cinnamon, cloves and allspice -- that comes from a jar, treat yourself to the homemade stuff at restaurants like Charivari. There, chef Johann Schuster cooks the cabbage down into a wonderfully balanced sweet-and-sour dish that's both creamy and tangy at the same time.

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Photo by Chris Goldberg
Schnitzel

Notice that we're not talking about just Wiener schnitzel here, but all schnitzel. At its most basic, a schnitzel is simply a cut of meat that's been pounded flat, coated with an egg wash, breaded with flour and fried. Sound familiar? It's the basis of chicken-fried steak (and milanesa, while we're at it). Wiener schnitzel is from Vienna (a.k.a. Wien, in its native language) and always made of veal cutlets. By comparison, other schnitzels like Jägerschnitzel are covered with a red wine and mushroom gravy, while Rahmschnitzel is topped with a creamier mushroom sauce.

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Photo by ceiling
Cold cuts

To my great surprise, it was cold cuts and cheese I ate most often while in Germany -- both at breakfast and at lunch -- not heavier meals of potato dumplings and schnitzels. Slices of what we'd call deli-style meat are incredibly common at both meals, and are eaten with thick slices of cheese, pickles, onions and mustards. While most of the cold cuts are sausages, these differ from the bratwurst and other hot German sausages in that they're meant to be consumed in cold slices, often in sandwich form.

Rye bread

R.W. Apple once wrote in the New York Times: "In Germany, I sometimes think, they don't care which side their bread is buttered on, or whether it's buttered at all, as long as it's made from rye." You'll find rye bread at every single meal, whether it's consumed with butter and jam at breakfast, cold cuts at lunch or coated with fresh schmaltz and eaten with soup and sauerbraten at dinner. And be careful that you don't mistake the schmaltz for butter the first time you eat at places like Charivari, King's Biergarten or even Kenny & Ziggy's; it's rendered chicken fat (which literally means "lard" in German). Schmeckt sehr gut!

Location Info

Map

Bar Munich

2616 Louisiana St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Charivari Restaurant

2521 Bagby St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

King's Biergarten

1329 E. Broadway, Pearland, TX

Category: Restaurant

Rudi Lechner's Restaurant and Bar

2503 S. Gessner Road, Houston, TX

Category: Music


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23 comments
karl.decker
karl.decker

I see the owner of Kings, his friends and fans have now written comments.  Look, I wanted it to be good.  I love German food.  I don't own a restaurant.  I don't have any friends that own a restaurant either.  I don't have an interest in any restaurant.  As God is my witness, when I ordered Jaegerschnitzel at King's, I received a Wienerschnitzel with a very thin hunter sauce poured on top with just out of the can, not cooked and not fresh mushrooms sprinkled on top.  On the drive home, I started feeling sick and felt sick for the next 12 hours.  That being said, my german american dad and my german american mom really enjoyed the wurst they had.  My son liked his wienerschnitzel but he always likes wienerschnitzel.  It is hard to screw up wurst if you have a good source of wurst.  I doubt it is homemade there.  Frankly, I can get decent wurst - Karl Ehmer brand at Central Market [much much better than Johnsonville]

claiborne
claiborne

I've denied this rumor many times: that is NOT Alison Cook in the lederhosen with red-checked blouse holding the shanks, nor is it a representation of her power over new restaurants. It is, in fact, a man named Sitter.

Craigley
Craigley

SIS seemed old when it was new.  

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

Rudi lechner's has currywurst. I get it all the time.

attyrose31
attyrose31

Given the dearth of German or any other Eastern European restaurants in the Houston area, perhaps a reference to the Polish grocery store on Blalock would have been appropriate where one can find a very large variety of sausages and cold cuts, as well as fresh meats, frozen pirogies, and  a wide array of pickled things and mustards in jars.  There is really no need to drive all the way to Pearland or sit in a bar with a tv blasting soccer games when one can just make a wurstfest at home.  Steaming sausage kraut in a pot just isn't that hard.

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

Maybe it's just me, but German food is something I never crave. On a recent sojourn in Fredericksburg we couldn't avoid German cuisine, and it was exceedingly mediocre. I guess there's a reason that there aren't German restaurants on every corner.

tinyhands
tinyhands

I saw curry wurst on a menu in the NewBraunfels-F'sburg-Boerne area recently. Don't recall which, but the menu was online, so if I could find it you should be able to too.

CharlesDfoodie101
CharlesDfoodie101

Went to King's after your posted about the Service.

Literally, the BEST German or Austrian food I've ever had in the states!!

I was stationed in Germany for 10+yrs and visited Austria frequently.

The owners were so nice, and the staff was superb.

I had the jaegerschnitzel and my wife had the Gypsy stew. Both were INCREDIBLE.

I plan on coming back for their Monday special for the Pork shanks (it's half off).

Ah, and yes, I had a Krombacher pils! Oh, the memories...

Thank you Katherine for introducing me to King's! 

willwalsh1
willwalsh1

Just a note about Uchi: During our last visit Pam Cantu came and swiftly took our foie nigiri away because we spent too much time discussing everything else we were eating. She noticed that the temp of the foie would not be appropriate any longer and insistently went and got a fresh one that was then chaperoned into our mouths to ensure optimum foie-ness. She was right. Servers who notice these things from across the room without you even being aware of is just one aspect of the new service bar to live up to in Houston.

RebeccaS
RebeccaS

I grew up in a very German part of Texas and my grandmother and grandfather, while born here, their parents. weren't. The German influence in food that I saw growing up was hand churned butter, lots of sausage and pork and potatoes, usually with butter and dill along with chicken broth noodles. It was very common to see potatoes and noodles in the same meal at my grandmothers house and it might have included 2 types of potatoes. Lots of starch. :) I don't know if pickles come from Germany but we always had homemade pickles of many varieties along with "chow chow" and oh, just lots and lots of home canned things. 


karl.decker
karl.decker

Word to the wise if you go to King's Biergarten in Pearland, do NOT order the Jägerschnitzel. It is absolutely horrible.  I grew up eating German food.  I eat German food whenever I get the chance.  What they served to me when I ordered Jägerschnitzel was Wienerschnitzel with the worst hunter sauce I have ever tasted poured on it.  To make matters worse, the mushrooms looked and tasted like they were fresh out of a can.  I kid you not, I was sick to my stomach for the next 24 hours.  It is a shame that this "restaurant" was even mentioned in this article.

oldenburg
oldenburg

I was born in the largely German burg of Cincinnati, OH and had a great appreciation for Goetta when I was growing up and then returning for visits. Has anyone found Goetta in Texas?

It seems like a food that's peculiar to Cincy 

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Sehr gut mein freund.. Though kraut es scheusslich.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@attyrose31 

"Steaming sausage kraut in a pot just isn't that hard."

I think you're underestimating what German food is.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@karl.decker I have never tried the Jägerschnitzel at King's Biergarten, although I thought the Wiener schnitzel was fabulous. I'm really sorry to hear about your bad experience there.

attyrose31
attyrose31

@Bruce_Are @attyrose31  No, not at all.  I understand what it is, what it can be, and how little of it is available in the Houston area.   Of the different basic food stuffs that are mentioned in the article, two have as the main ingredient sausages, one describes and briefly explains sauerkraut and red cabbage, and  another discusses cold cuts.   My point was that a trip to the Polish market on Blalock has those ingredients and none of those things require much effort to create at least half of the menus at the restaurants that are discussed, particularly if you also consider that the market also has the ingredients needed to make the other dishes referenced in the article.  That all being said, the truth is that German/Polish/Russian food just is not terribly complicated to make and if one wanted to have a beer and sausage type meal, it can easily be done at home with items purchased at the market.  There is also a Polish restaurant in the same area as the market that offers an extensive Eastern European menu. Neither the market or the restaurant appear to well known beyond the Eastern European emigre community so perhaps you should consider my original posting as more of a public service for both the market and the public to learn about places that are not widely  known.  One of the things that distinguishes Houston from so many other cities is the cultural diversity of the population that is best represented by the wide range of ethnic/nationality based groceries and restaurants.

attyrose31
attyrose31

@Ogden @HTownChowDown  

 

You know, I think HTownChowDown's views about German food is the prevailing view of most people who live in the greater Houston region if one considers that availability of German food to the apparently large number of residents of German background.  One would think that if there was a great interest in Eastern European food in Houston there would be far more of it available.  I do not share HTownChowDown's views but I do accept that they are widely held.  

karl.decker
karl.decker

@kshilcutt @karl.decker  The sad thing is that I wanted it to be good.  Additional German restaurants to me is a very good thing.  There was zero embellishment in what I wrote.

Ogden
Ogden

@attyrose31 @Bruce_Are  Polonia restaurant and market have been covered here by Robb Walsh and others...it's not like you're breaking big news, but you're right about them carrying good sausages and stuff from Chicago.

BobbyFreshpants
BobbyFreshpants topcommenter

@karl.decker @kshilcutt I ate the Jagerschnitzel close to when they first opened and thought it was great, a very nice sauce in just the right proportion. Maybe not the best I've had but was definitely authentic.

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