Review: Schulte & Herr

Want comfort? Go German
By BRIAN DUFF  |  November 2, 2011

SUNDAY ROAST Pork shoulder with a red wine sauce, pearl onions, and potato dumplings.

The most famous quality of Germans is their knack for accomplishing even difficult tasks with a clean efficiency. Just now Germany is diligently rescuing the European economy — agreeing to bail out profligate Greece but also (unlike the US) forcing banks to take big losses on their irresponsible loans. A rarer but more sublime German quality is the ability to engage weighty matters with a lightness of spirit and touch — think Nietzsche in philosophy, Hölderlin in poetry, Herzog and Wenders in film.

Both qualities are on display at Schulte & Herr, a new breakfast and lunch spot serving German cuisine on Cumberland Avenue. The owners brought an admirable parsimony to transforming this once dingy space into something cozy and relatively appealing. It is remarkable how effectively a well-fonted sign and green awning enliven the front. Inside the spare interior is made much homier with just a few touches: puffy yellow picture frames, floral patterned sugar bowls, and some great-looking half-sliced loaves of bread in the corner.

So there is your efficiency. Even more important is the light touch Schulte & Herr bring to their cuisine. It is because Germany has been a nation of deep thinkers and consequential actions that no people has needed lightness more. And no cuisine requires a delicate touch more than traditional German comfort food, with its heavy ingredients. S&H gets this balance just right with dish after dish. For example, not only are the potato pancakes made from a pillowy whip, and seared crispy without too much crunch or grease. They are also served with a house-cured salmon that keeps things bright by enhancing the flesh's natural sweetness with subtle notes of orangey citrus. It is all served with a thin, light sour cream and horseradish sauce, which along with some capers, radish, and cornichon, enhance both fish and potato, and overwhelm neither.

Good decisions abound at S&H. Thus the pumpkin lentil soup is not a sweet purée. Rather the richer flavor and hearty texture of lentils is the dominant note, spotted with sweet tender chunks of pumpkin. And there are many great details, like a sauerkraut with the sort of rich flavor and crunchy texture that comes from a long, cool, and recently completed fermentation. There are the house-made breads, jams, and sauces. They bake a light, just-sweet bun for the extremely tender and deeply rich beer-braised beef sandwich — the beer lending the meat a nice touch of sour.

Sunday brunch offers another chance to sample the kitchen's talent with slow-cooking meat to a perfect juicy tenderness — in the form of a Sunday roast which changes from week to week. Last Sunday it was slices of pork shoulder, served with a rich red wine sauce, fresh pearl onions, and terrific potato dumplings.

The house take on spaetzle seemed to combine the most comforting tastes of French, Swiss, and German cuisines in one coherent dish. The little noodles (German) managed to be both soft and toothsome, the dough both a touch sour and a touch sweet. It was topped with lots of dark, sweet, caramelized onions (à la the French soup), and melted Emmenthal cheese (like Swiss raclette). Finally, an apple dumpling featured a whole baked apple inside a light, flakey pastry, stuffed with walnuts and cinnamon. With a big dollop of fresh whipped cream, it was a great dessert.

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