I had a geography professor who insisted one could learn anything about a landscape by studying its cuisine. He used Asian stir-fry to prove his point: It denotes a lack of accessible cooking fuel, which necessitates small, quickly cooked pieces; a long growing season, which allows for a variety of fresh produce; and a marshy landscape—perfect for cultivating rice.
German food is the opposite: Vast forests allow large cuts of meat to be cooked slowly, and a shorter growing season necessitates relying on hardier plants like potatoes and cabbage.
It is difficult to tell whether the cuisine influenced the culture, or vice versa, but to know German food is to know German people, for both are methodical, practical, and hardy.
Mike Sell, manager of The Glockenspiel in St. Paul, says, “German food is the food of the common person. It’s very simple. Germans do not rush their food, and they don’t rush a meal, either.”
The simplicity of German fare may explain why it does not receive the same adoration as that of neighboring France, yet German cooking methods have been incorporated into French cuisine for centuries.
Sell explains, “Chefs in Germany and France would go back and forth. They would send their chefs down to learn a particular kind of cooking, and come back with the technique.”
What Germany’s wieners and sauerkraut lack in critical acclaim, they gain in customer satisfaction. It’s the feel-good food of the world.
The Glockenspiel, which has been serving its West 7th Street neighborhood in St. Paul well for the past nine years, is dedicated to bringing traditional German food to the Twin Cities. Owner Martin Ziegler imported the restaurant’s recipes directly from his homeland in Germany.
Ziegler showcases his own line of Deutschland Meats—alongside two kinds of mustard and a selection of crackers—in the Wurstteller plate ($11.99). Sell points out the blutwurst (blood sausage), which has a very mild but dark flavor, almost like a savory chocolate. He tells me it is very difficult to get blutwurst to taste just right, which is why the restaurant is pleased to have such a fine source. Also among the carnivore’s feast are smoked bratwurst, knackwurst, elk sausage, Black Forest ham, and more. This appetizer, easily large enough to serve four, is a wonderful foray into what Germans do best: Take a hunk of meat, grind it, and stuff it into a long tube of intestine.
No doubt, Wurstteller would go swimmingly with one of the many German beers on the menu, but Sell suggested Gewurztraminer. It’s light and fruity, yet has a depth and a full body that indeed goes well with the assorted meats.
For our entrées, the bartender suggested Tilburg, a Dutch light brown ale. Neither bitter nor shy, it has notes of caramel that hold up well alongside Schwinebraten ($13.95), a lovely roasted pork loin with gravy; Sauerbraten ($16), marinated, fork-tender roasted beef; Jagerschnitzel, lightly breaded pork cutlets with mushroom gravy ($16.10); and Stuffed Schnitzel ($17), a kind of pork cordon bleu. The latter practically begs the question of why ham and cheese stuffing is reserved for chicken—using pork instead brightens the flavor quite nicely.
In another restaurant, perhaps some of these entrées would taste a bit flat, particularly those like Sauerbraten or Schwinebraten, which are drenched in rich gravy, and served over spaetzle. However, at The Glockenspiel, which makes almost everything from scratch, the sauces are bursting with flavor—a far cry from the gloppy, salty messes that cause me to shudder at the word “buffet.”
Sell served his version of Stroganoff ($13.50). It is one of the few recipes that he revamped, and Ziegler has given his full approval to the change. Sell’s German grandmother taught him how to cook, so, with a respectful hand, he topped his Stroganoff with a horseradish dill cream that gives the dish a needed kick. If you have dined at The Glockenspiel, but have not tried Sell’s Stroganoff yet, I recommend that you return.
We were served a warm Peppermint Stick cocktail with three desserts, priced at $4.95 each: Black Forest Cake, made with kirschwasser liqueur; German Chocolate Cake; and Cheesecake with fresh strawberry sauce—all made in-house. The cheesecake is made to the European standard—dense and lightly sweetened. I am not a dessert enthusiast, but I must say, the frosting on the German chocolate cake was especially divine.
Perhaps the best night to visit the Glockenspiel is on the first or third Saturday of each month, when an accordion player charms audiences into joining in on traditional German drinking songs. Come prepared to spend a relaxing evening among good company—and wear loose-fitting pants.
The Glockenspiel, 605 W. 7th St., St. Paul. (651) 292-9421. www.glockenspielrestaurant.com