1648 2nd Avenue
New York, NY
(212) 628-2332 | Map
It seems odd to me that I am posting a review of a German restaurant while I'm consuming Thai leftovers, but I knew I'd have to push back the writing of this review if I didn't write it tonight. Then again, being so readily accessible to so many ethnic restaurants is one of the reasons why I love living in New York.
This past Monday was the designated night for the Lehigh Dinner Club, a club that's neither officially affiliated with Lehigh University, where I received my undergraduate degree, nor a club at all. Installed in January 2008, the Lehigh Dinner Club (pictured below at Ayza Wine & Chocolate Bar) consists of three friends (me, on the left; Brian, in the middle; and Kym, on the right) who all met at Lehigh and bonded over our shared adventures as members of the The Wind Ensemble at Lehigh University. We meet once a month to stay in touch and to try new-to-us restaurants around the city. The responsibility of choosing the restaurant rotates, and it was my turn to choose our August dining spot.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I had been ignoring dining opportunities on the Upper East Side, so I acted on the recommendation of my friend Karl, another Lehigh alum and special guest of the Lehigh Dinner Club at our May meeting at Osteria Gelsi, and picked the Heidelberg Restaurant. When I mentioned to coworkers that I would be dining at the Heidelberg, a few of them raved about the food, so I knew we weren't being steered in the wrong direction. If three people can each give a restaurant two very enthusiastic thumbs up, that's a very good sign.
The restaurant is very accessible from the 86th Street stop on the 4, 5, and 6 trains, and I was pleasantly surprised by how little effort it took to get there from my office in Long Island City. Upon arriving at the restaurant, I noticed they had some tables on the sidewalk that were available, but I opted for a table inside to avoid the uncomfortable stickiness of the humid evening. A lovely woman dressed in a traditional dirndl seated me at a table toward the back of the restaurant and I perused the menu while waiting for Brian and Kym to arrive. The smells of the food on other patrons' tables began to drift in my direction and my stomach growled. Thankfully, I was provided with a basket of bread to nibble on while I waited so my hunger pangs were somewhat alleviated.
When my friends arrived, we didn't need too much time with the menu before putting in our orders. Since there's no point in trying a German restaurant without sampling their beer, Brian and I each ordered some of the Spaten Oktoberfest. Brian tackled the 1.0 liter stein while I was quite content with the 1/3-liter stein. To start, we shared pretzels ($2.50/each) and spaetzle ($3.95). So good! The pretzels were warm, slightly crisp on the outside, and wonderfully chewy on the inside. I think I could have eaten a truck-load of those things if given the opportunity. They were so go, I almost forgot about my intense aversion to mustard and found myself tempted to smear a little on. I said almost. I stopped myself before I let myself get too crazy with the German condiments! And the spaetzle was equally delicious. All signs of better things to come with our main entrees.
We all stayed on the traditional side of things when ordering our entrees. I wasn't brave enough to try Sauere Nieren (sour kidneys, served with spaetzle and red cabbage) or Eisbein (boiled pigs knuckles, served with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut), so I ordered the Bratwurst ($15.95), served with red cabbage and potato salad (German, of course). The meal actually comes with sauerkraut, but I asked to substitute the cabbage for the kraut. Brian ordered the Smoked Bratwurst, served with potato salad and sauerkraut, and Kym had the Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlet) with homefries ($21.95). She skipped the red cabbage.
Words cannot even begin to describe how amazing our meals were. Per tradition, we shared our entrees with each other, each commenting on what a wise choice someone else made. It was difficult, but I forced myself to leave enough food on my plate so I would have a respectable portion to bring into work for lunch the next day. I had never had smoked bratwurst before, and Brian and I agreed that it tasted a lot like Polish kielbasa. The red cabbage I substituted for the sauerkraut was slightly sweet and provided an excellent complement to the pan-fried bratwurst that I ordered. And the bite of schnitzel I ate rivaled the schnitzel I had when in Germany over ten years ago. I can understand why my friends recommended the Heidelberg so highly. (No pun intended.)
To finish the meal, Kym and I each ordered a piece of the apple strudel with whipped cream ($6.95) and coffee, while Brian tried the Asbach Coffee (Asbach brandy and coffee topped with whipped cream, $7.50). Given the quality of our entrees, I was expecting something more from my dessert. The apples were slightly undercooked and had a bit too much bite for my taste, and the pastry wasn't flaky at all. I ate the whole thing, of course, but I think it could have been better. Brian's Asbach Coffee was potent, and I could smell the brandy from my seat across the table! I think he enjoyed it, though, since he polished it off before Kym and I had a chance to finish our desserts. Unfortunately, Kym and I never saw the coffees we ordered, so that was a bit of a let-down.
All in all, our dining experience at the Heidelberg was incredibly memorable. The restaurant was just crowded enough to create a buzz of conversation, but it wasn't so loud that we couldn't hear ourselves talking to one another. The service was pleasant, and our waitress, also dressed in a dirndl, didn't mind as I desperately tried to remember some of the German I learned back in high school. And, of course, the food was fantastic. I think the Heidelberg may be a contender for the "Best of 2008" list the Lehigh Dinner Club is compiling, and I know I'm going to want to go back and try some of the other dishes on the menu.
I, too, give the Heidelberg Restaurant two very enthusiastic thumbs up!
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