Some zip codes just aren’t hip enough for critical review. 97220 in the Parkrose neighborhood, home of The German Bakery, is one of those.
The unassuming storefront on Sandy Boulevard could do more to showcase the array of central european delights that await the intrepid germanophile. Long overshadowed by their far more popular competitor, Edelweiss, in the considerably trendier 97202 area code; the plucky volksdeutsche out there in no hipster land toil away at their jaegerbrot, marzipan, and their baerentatze in relative obscurity. Two glass display cases are filled with rolls, cookies and impossibly beautiful pastries. Behind the counter hangs another glass case filled (well, mostly empty past noon) with house baked- rye and white flour breads.
Not ready to venture beyond the motherly embrace of inner southeast Portland for a couple of pastries and some marzipan cookies? The Bakery just happens to be connected to The Bavarian Sausage Company whose main location is in the true hinterlands of Tigard. The selection ranges from 18-inch long thuringer bratwurst to dinner franks and spicy beer sausage. No New Seasons’ “loose-lean-ground meat seasoned with a haphazard quantity of spice dust, and placed in the general vicinity of a pig’s intestine.” These are the real Bavarian deal. The seasoning could, to my mind, be a little more forward but that’s probably just the Cincinnati in me talking. The sausages have snap and the smoke (on those that are) is just right.
When Leona and I go, we’re usually heading out of town to do some hiking and we want something that we can eat cold on rolls (the laugenwecke, pretzel rolls, are delicious). So we go for the cold cuts and cheese. Head cheese comes in a couple of incantations and it’s delicious. Lyoner, Black Forest Ham and Westphalian ham, like the less-aged German version of prosciutto are also on display and well executed. Bavarian mustard, gherkins, pickled beets, saurkraut, and various other, stranger, German condiments fill a couple of shelves. Butterkaese is one cheese you should stop living without. The variety they carry here appears to be a mass market example but it’s incredibly satisfying nonetheless. As the name implies, it tastes like butter, but its a semi- soft cow’s milk cheese that’s aged for about a month. What could be nicer with a liter of hellesbier? Nothing, that’s what.
Speaking of beer, they’ve got about thirty labels, mostly mass market stuff, but a couple of treats, and they serve breakfast and lunch.
Breakfast, referred to simply as “German Breakfast” consists of a variety of cold cuts, some butterkaese, a selction of rolls (usually plain seeming “milk rolls”), butter, apricot jam, and a soft boiled egg. Perfect. Lunch, I have yet to try. I will only mention here that they serve a dish called rouladen which is a stuffed, stewed beef roll, pork chops, and stuffed cabbage. I believe that they serve these with a selection of sides, like german potato salad.
There are other misfit restaurants that I intend to bring to you in the very near future. Following the example of gastronomes like Calvin Trillin and Jane and Michael Stern one can find a plethora of great, authentic eateries that survive not through fanfare, deep pockets, and critical reviews, but through the loyal patronage of a loyal clientelle. The original intent of those authors, which has now been largely perverted on the websites chowhound.com and roadfood.com, was to showcase regional American institutions, places that fed generations of people the sort of familiar fare that they truly, earnestly desired. What today we refer to, sometimes derisively, other times simply condescendingly, as comfort food. The problem is that as the generation that frequents these institutions dies off or retires to Florida, their offspring do not step up to take their places. They go either the way of Safeway, Wal Mart, and Wendy’s or the way of Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Toro Bravo (not to pick on that restaurant per se, but you know what I mean, don’t act like you don’t). The problem is, to my mind, especially keen in the area of retail food. American butchers, bakers and greengrocers are practically extinct. The trades themselves are going fast as well, considering that at the average American supermarket they train people only as “meat cutters” as opposed to butchers (most actually only train them to be “meat wrappers”), the bread is generally of low quality and often made from mixes, and the deli counter is more a showcase of the travesties of modern industrial food supply than a display of proudly crafted artisan goods.
If urban young people continue to ignore these institutions they will disappear. With them will go a large chunk of our awareness of our past and America will continue to be regarded in some circles (europeans, trendy American “foodies”) as lacking a serious food culture.