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(out of five)

For Better or Wurst

Old Munich German Restaurant
10420 Kingston Pike

by Les DuLunch

The best, most democratic way to solve the Saturday night gang dinner location quandary is to settle on a place that absolutely no one has ever been to and that features a cuisine most are unfamiliar with. That way, nobody has to bear the (sometimes distressing) responsibility of making an under-par selection or has to scramble to locate a restaurant that features the phrase that invariably sends menus plummeting—"something for everybody."

So, when the weekend rolled around, our group of six agreed to experiment and make a departure from the usual downtown circuit of Tomato Head, Lula, or Riverside by traveling west to Old Munich German Restaurant.

To date, my closest brush with German food had come at an early age. Each fall, the little Lutheran enclave of transplanted-to-the-Smokies Michiganders and Wisconsinites that formed the congregation of my parents' church would throw a bratwurst cook-out. No beer, unfortunately—we weren't those kind of Lutherans, although we were the kind with wine on the altar. Mr. Schiller, the usher who greeted attendees with a thick "Hhhchello" each Sunday morning, would man the grill, which sizzled with piles of the pale sausages, while the acrid, sweaty odor of an Alpine-proportion sauerkraut mountain leaked from the kitchen. All the while, I snickered at the name ("brat" and "worst"), pinched my nose closed when in close proximity to the kraut, and thought, "These crazy Yankees. Why can't we just have a barbecue like the Baptists?"

Fortunately, I soon woke up and realized the near fatal flaw I'd made. Let them keep their grape juice and gregarious evangelism; I stuck with weird wieners, although a long time passed until I went in search of German food again—until last Saturday in fact.

It would seem that there's suddenly a large market for German cuisine in Knoxville. Where once there was none, there are now two: Restaurant Linderhof and Old Munich, both located within blocks of each other in Farragut. Opting to try Linderhof's pricier fare some other time, we settled on Old Munich, which occupies a small, airy space in the Lovell Heights shopping center. The restaurant's call-ahead seating proved very beneficial, as at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, it was packed. (Thus another potential pitfall in the group dining experience—the wait—was easily alleviated.)

What we discovered was delightfully straightforward food. With few frills, each entree took centerstage relatively unadorned.

Simple, untoasted slices of light, moist rye bread and a leafy salad with the house dressing, a subtle, pleasantly peppery peanut butter vinaigrette (not authentic German; I asked just to check) got the meal under way. Well, actually, a frosted mug of sticky, pale Warsteiner beer got things off to their start, followed in quick succession by another more full-bodied variety that began in "war" and ended in "er" but had a few more consonant-heavy syllables in between.

The lone member of our party who opted for soup instead of salad was rewarded with a luscious, tomato-based variant of Hungarian goulash. The savory, robust beef- and potato-filled stew was made even heartier by large cubes of green pepper and onion.

After yet another round of "," dinner was served. Myself, I chose hunter schnitzel with spatzle ($9.95), although the Beef Rolladen (scrumptious-sounding little medallions of bacon and pickle-stuffed beef) nearly tipped the scales. The hunter variety of schnitzel—thin, unbreaded cutlets of pork—comes topped with bacon and mushrooms. But it was the spatzle that held my attention most. Softer than gnocchi, their Italian counterpart, these rough, misshapen little pasta lumps have a delightfully springy consistency that reminded me with each mouthful of firm scrambled eggs.

Elsewhere around the table there was: a particularly fine Wiener Schnitzel ($13.95), the traditional, lightly breaded veal cutlet, served with warm red cabbage; more of the spatzle ($7.95) covered in a Bavarian-style Swiss cheese sauce that did prove a bit bland; a delightfully tender, part-with-the-touch-of-a-fork pork chop ($8.95) soaked in beer to add earthy flavor and a beautiful deep golden brown color served with doughy potato dumplings; an expert chicken cordon bleu ($9.95) perhaps representing the much-contended Alsacian French-German border region; and a low-spice but high-heat piece of thick-cut pepper steak that was, thrillingly, flambéed tableside ($13.95).

But there was more in store. The folks at Old Munich had saved the best for last with their dessert options. Between the tortes, cakes, crepes, and two varieties of strudel, there was more than enough for everyone to sample something. And sample we did, although I tried to fend off as many forks as possible from the cheese strudel ($3.95) I ordered. (Another potential problem with group dining, the "Oh, let me try some of that," which works fine if the dish is merely mediocre, but proves problematic when you want to hog it all for yourself.)

German for "whirlpool," the strudel was a vortex of heavenly fabulousness—thin layers of dough spread with sweet cream cheese, dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with a puffy cloud of real whipped cream. But finally I had to give in and play nice, trading in for a bite of the luscious Black Forest torte ($2.95) that was layered with enough cream, cherry, and chocolate to put an extra step in Sprockets' dance.

As our forks collectively lowered to the table, everyone sat back and exclaimed, "Wunderbar!" Dining en masse at Old Munich had been a tremendous success.

May 18, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 20
© 2000 Metro Pulse