what to expect from a wirtshaus

The Katharinenkloster in Bremen, or rather the few Gothic bits of wall and ceiling that are left of it, has housed restaurants for a long time. The building is wedged-in between huge stores and a parking garage, and would seem gloomy from the outside. Not so the charming interior: There are many tables and lots of space in between. The brick walls swallow much of the noise in spite of the high ceiling in some parts of the restaurant. The place is built in several levels – a few steps up here, a few steps down there, so one can always sit and wait until a waiter or a beer-filled guest misses his footing.

A few years ago, a Bavarian kitchen resided in these walls, the Andechser Wirtshaus. They served Andechser draft beer, which is so good that you put up with pretty much any style of cooking just for a glass or two. The cooking was not that horrifying, by the way.

These days, as I found out in mid-May, some changes have taken place. The Andechser in the name is gone. For easy reference, the place is still is called Wirtshaus (at least according to my bill) not ‘das Wirtshaus’ or ‘Wirtshaus zum [add German animal like Adler, Hirsch or Hornochse]’ or something like ‘Wirtshaus Hinterhubermeier’ – just Wirtshaus. The Andechser beer is also gone. I ordered half a liter of “Pils”, which may have been DAB (Dortmunder Aktien Brauerei), but to be honest, I have forgotten. The menu, which used to be Bavarian in content only, is now turned into a guttural, coded message in phonetic notated dialect. Most of the dishes are the same, however.

My mom, who was heavily disappointed about the beer, ordered a “Spinatfladen” which is best described as a rustic Bavarian spinach pizza; I couldn’t understand half of the expressions on the menu and did not fancy meat on that day, so I went Nordic and ordered a Matjesteller, Hausfrauen Art, which may be translated into Dutch salted herring, housewife-style.

The Spinatfladen, of which I got a taste, was quite good, but too salty, and the (leaf) spinach had gotten the chance to get dry and stringy. No good. Chop the spinach, put some oil into the mix, bake the Fladen a shorter time, no matter. Do something, but don’t claim that a regional specialty needs to be dry and salty.

And the herring. Of course, I asked for it. Dutch herring out of season in a Bavarian restaurant located in North-German Bremen cannot be too fantastic. In Amsterdam, the arrival of the new salted herring is a very serious business, and the newspapers publish long lists of ratings of the various herring selling points. Any herring that seems just a little bland or oily receives a merciless thumbs-down.

Some of the salted herring sold in Germany is kept in oil (not in brine), against drying out. The fillets also tend to be larger than the Dutch ones and the salty taste is more pronounced. As a kid I hated this kind of fish, but that’s long ago: I thought I knew what I ordered here.

Now the thing that definitely doesn’t belong to this unauthentic non-Dutch salted herring is a dried, discolored edge – it is a mystery to me how this even happened: with oil-covered fillets. No matter, it did happen. The Wirtshaus gave me two large fillets with two dried edges. Not too many guests seem to fancy housewife herring in the middle of May. I still could eat the fish, and since I was hungry, I did, but I won’t do it again. The fried potatoes, German style with onions and a lot of frying fat, were good but monstrously massive, even for someone who is regularly exercising (fat consumption, that is).

The service, luckily, was pleasant and professional.

To sum up: the place is charming. Some of their food might also be better than what we ate. The beer, however, isn’t anything to write home about, which is a real shame.

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