2434 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Ever since I was young, I have had a penchant for meat dishes – they just seem far superior to fish and vegetable fare. And if there is any country that knows how to cook meat well, it’s Germany.
I had German cuisine once at a hotel in Beijing. Despite its purported German influence, as I strolled down the brunch buffet stands, the only German trace that I could detect was the selection of four differently shaped sausages. Fortunately, a more authentic encounter with the Western European cuisine can be found close by at the German restaurant Old Europe.
A few blocks beyond Whole Foods on Wisconsin Avenue, Old Europe distinguishes itself from the nearby fast-food diners with its unique outdoor decor. A string of red, yellow, and black German flags hanging underneath the roof can be seen from afar. The vibrant combination of colors coupled with the warmth of the dark exterior wall and the wooden furniture inside made us feel as though we were stepping into an idyllic house in the German countryside. While some might deem the interior red walls to be tacky and the small flower-filled vases on the tables tawdry, these tiny details all seem to be reminiscent of a simple and somewhat distant past.
The quality of service at Old Europe seemed to vary depending on the server. Whereas several waiters wore a constant look of impatience, we were lucky enough to be assigned a nice waitress who, judging by her lilting accent, was originally from Germany or one of its closer neighbors. She wore a typical farmhouse dress and beamed with an irresistibly charismatic smile as she took our orders.
Our dinner started with a basket of three types of bread, accompanied by a small bowl of traditional German dip and two separate bowls of clotted cream. Although the table bread seemed popular and was also available for sale, the texture left a little to be desired.
Although the denser loaf is typical of German fare, I personally prefer the more chewy French baked goods or the softer and more airy Asian breads. That said, I did find the dark wheat bread to be rather flavorful, especially when coupled with the complementary clotted cream, which, despite its lack of buttery aroma, had a sweet, milky taste. However, I suggest potential patrons try the traditional German dip with caution: True, it resembled a round ball of mashed potatoes, but it was in fact made almost entirely of pig fat. If you’re not a fan of fat and oil, you should shy away from this greasy dip.
Much like the traditional dip, most German entrees offered at Old Europe appeared to be quite heavy. When we asked our waitress for a recommendation, she enthusiastically pointed to the schnitzel Old Europe, perhaps the restaurant’s most signature dish. Made from an original house recipe created by the Lichtenstein family, who opened the restaurant in 1948, the schnitzel, served with a choice of either of veal, chicken or pork, came with several slices of tomatoes on top, and was then covered with Hollandaise sauce.
“It is very, very good,” our waitress said, “but it is very heavy.” However, her repeated warning of its decadence did not deter me from ordering the house recipe dish.
Now, not having visited a decent German restaurant before, I dare not determine the authenticity of the dish — in fact, a handful of online reviews characterized Old Europe as more Austrian than German. Nonetheless, the schnitzel was absolutely heavenly. I opted for the veal which was cooked to perfection: tender, savory, and delicious.
In fact, the meat was so amazingly flavorful that it eclipsed the flavor of the hollandaise. Normally, I would have complained about not being able to taste the hollandaise; this time, however, I was more than happy to savior the aroma of each bite of the veal. Moreover, although I had never liked tomatoes, the ones on the schnitzel were rather tasty and really complemented the other flavors of the dish. The whole thing was simply impeccable: not oily, not greasy, just juicy.
The entree that I ordered came with two sides. Again following our waitress’s recommendation, I ordered the potato pancakes with applesauce and the cheese spätzel.
Again, both exemplified perfection. Even after hearing nothing but fervent compliments from our waitress in regard to the potato pancakes, I was still taken aback upon the first bite. It was not until that moment that I began to understand the charm of applesauce.
The cheese spätzel reminded me a little of mac and cheese, but with a lighter taste. After devouring the entire schnitzel, I had to carry home half of each side. They were, admittedly, rather oily after being reheated and therefore served as unpleasant reminders of just how many (delicious) calories I had consumed the day before.
Old Europe does offer a special menu for vegetarians. However, if you are looking for a light dinner, this is certainly not the place to be. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a little indulgence, look no further than this German diner. Too heavy? Perhaps. Is it worth it? Oh, you bet.