Marliese Hall, co-owner of the Alt Heidelberg Restaurant in Fern Hill, serves Creig Sundstrom of Auburn a lunch of a reuben sandwich, half red cabbage and half sauerkraut, with a side of potato salad. Peter Haley/The News Tribune
EDITOR’S NOTE: Drop-In Dining is a restaurant dining report where reporters drop in unannounced and sample the food, on TNT’s dime, then report what the scene and the food was like. Have a suggestion for a Drop-In Dining feature? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Alt Heidelberg German Restaurant
Where: 8233 S. Park Ave., Tacoma, 253-472-1219
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays.
Price range: $ (Entrees up to $14)
By Sue Kidd
The scene: Alt Heidelberg German Restaurant is like eating in someone’s home. The restaurant is as big as a living room and looks like one too, with homey knickknacks and photographic nods to Germany. A stray printer sat on a dining room table on one visit (just like home!). A compact kitchen with open pantry shelving, laden with containers of bread crumbs and jars of apple sauce, looks like a kitchen that grandma would putter around in. Alt Heidelberg has four tables and room for about 20 diners. You best call ahead to see if there’s a table. It fills with just a few parties.
The food: German on steroids. Big portions, big menu, big German oomph. Alt Heidelberg serves food that’s classically comforting in a brats-and-beer-and-shnitzel kind of way. Judging from the visible action in the open kitchen, much of it is created from scratch.
Schnitzel, spaetzle, sauerbraten and many other German comfort classics are present and accounted for. Burgers and sandwiches complete the menu. Save room for dessert. A half-dozen choices are in a refrigerated cooler in the corner of the dining room. The same display case holds a half-dozen choices of German and American beers.
The people: Marliese Hall and Lisa McDaniels are the owners. Alt Heidelberg is a transplant restaurant and opened just a few months ago in its new location in Tacoma’s Fern Hill area. It previously operated as Freight Hause German Restaurant and Deli in Freighthouse Square. That space is now occupied by B&B’s Barbeque.
Dining notes: Schnitzel ($8.95-$10.95) is the anchor of the menu, and a safe bet to order. The versions we tried were tasty – pounded pork cutlets seasoned, breaded and fried to a crispy golden brown – and covered with a choice of sauces and toppings. There are six versions on the menu. Go with the mushroom gravy jaeger schnitzel ($9.95) over the cream schnitzel with white sauce ($9.50). The mushroom gravy was hearty and deeply rich, while the cream sauce lacked flavor and had an "odd fluffy texture," as my dining partner characterized it.
The bratwurst ($8.95) was meaty, tasty and a great value considering the large portion size, and a good choice for a meat lover in any group. Beefy chunks make for a rich Hungarian goulash ($10.95). It was promised spicy, but was more packed with brown gravy flavor than punched with spice. The dish is simmered until the peppers and onions disintegrate beyond recognition. It’s good, like a tasty, thick German stew. The beef rouladen ($10.95) was a bit on the dry side and you must love pickles to order this dish, because the thinly sliced beef comes rolled around pickle spears smeared with mustard.
The dishes go big with sides, making prices a real bargain. A first side choice is a salad or the soup of the day. The salad is an average starter salad (think iceberg lettuce). The corn chowder, a daily special, on one visit was close to the best soup I’ve ever had. It was rich with bacon and thickly creamy, and popped with crunchy corn kernels. On another visit, clam chowder was the soup of the day, but our server advised against ordering it because it had been cooking all day and she thought it was overdone. When a server says don’t order, I don’t order.
A second choice is a warm potato salad, German-style home fries or spaetzle noodles. The warm potato salad was vinegary and the home fries hearty and satisfying, but the spaetzle was the unanimous favorite on all visits. From the dining room, diners can see the spaetzle noodles being pressed through a German metal press that looks like a potato ricer. The spaetzle is long and curly, sort of like a German spaghetti, and the large side of noodles comes topped with that same rich, brown gravy that appears on other menu items. A third side is a choice between sauerkraut or red cabbage. If you prefer both, just ask.
Service: Efficient and friendly, although not always speedy. It’s a small place and on one visit only one person worked the kitchen and the tables; a second helper was there on a busy weekend night. It is a friendly kind of place and welcoming.
For next time: Gypsy schnitzel with onions, pepper and gravy ($10.95) and a classic reuben with sauerkraut ($8.95). A good test of a restaurant is, would I go back on my own dime? The answer: "Ja!!!"
Wild card: Must save room for dessert. Black forest cake was a delicious stack of three layers of dark chocolate cake, layered with cherries and topped with a nicely sweet, but not cloying, frosting. Desserts are made by a special-order bakery in Renton.