It only took about a week into my visit to Germany but suddenly, there it was: My massive craving for a bowl of hot noodle soup.
Good thing I was in Berlin — I’d been told before getting here that there’s good Vietnamese food to be had in this city. Vietnamese immigrants, after all, have been a fixture in Berlin since as early as the 1950s, when East Germany began extending invitations to North Vietnamese to come over for training programs.
Where to go? All signs pointed to a spot in East Berlin’s Lichtenberg neighborhood named Dong Xuan Center …
In Asia at least, that’s where you can often find good food that’s fairly cheap in settings that are open deep into the night.
It turns out that this sometimes holds true even for gentrified neighborhoods that once were red-light districts — at least that’s what I discovered during a recent jaunt to Frankfurt’s Bornheim, a city district once called “Das lustige Dorf” (“The Merry Village”) because of the evening hotbed that it was more than 100 years ago …
Of course I landed in Frankfurt hungry. Starving, really.
Not to mention exhausted, grumpy — and did I mention famished? Which is, as you might guess, not the best combination.
With the goal being to feed me — and fast — we decided to step into a place that popped up on a road nearby. Now, as someone who tends to like researching places before I pick up a fork there, I wondered, would this random choice near the woods of Raunheim, Germany, be OK?
The sound of its name — Bembelsche, which means jug of apple wine, the local specialty — was promising though. And schnitzel was on the menu.
A girl’s first time in Germany and of course, old-school taverns are a must. In Frankfurt, that means one kind in particular — a traditional Äpplerkneipe, or apple wine bar. And if you’re going to check one out, it’s simply got to be Fichtekränzi.
Dating back to 1849, this place — one of the oldest apple wine bars in the city — oozes tradition. The menu is packed with schnitzel, sausage platters, pork knuckles and more, and the setting, though filled with the young and well-heeled parking their fashionable rumps on long wooden benches, is decidedly rooted in the 19th Century.
I know all this now — but before getting there, I hadn’t been told much about this place by the native Frankfurter showing me around, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as we slowly wended our way down the banks of the tranquil Main River, along a series of narrow lanes, before turning into an alley.
There’s something to be said for a solid, old-school meal.
What this means varies, of course, depending on where you are. In the U.S., I’ve always relished the mom-and-pop low-key restaurants that still roll out unfussy, decades-old standbys — hot turkey platters, melts, meatloaf and more. (If you’ve read “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” you’ll know what a meatloaf obsessive I am.)
I find myself craving these meals when it gets a little chilly. And so on a recent rainy day, we found ourselves heading over to a little restaurant called Belle Harbor Steak House in Rockaway Park, New York.
I’d caught a glimpse of the menu a few days before and it seemed like just the place to warm you up on a cold drizzly afternoon …
Lunchtime on a hot summer’s day and two small boys are very silently perched on a bench near Fort Tilden Beach.
They’re still; their eyes a little glazed. Finally, one breaks the stupor to very slowly say, “These are soooo good.”
The source of their trance is at their elbows — two almost empty cups of thick, cold milkshakes and the carcass of lunch. At this point, sous chef and I have just gotten off a sunny bus ride all the way to the end of the Q22 line at Rockaway Beach, all in search of this mythical Breezy Dog food truck we’d been reading about.
From the look of the fog these boys were in, lunch was starting to seem worth the ride …
Well, The Wharf in New York‘s Rockaway Beach is certainly not one of those places.
Check it out, yes — I definitely heard that. With its outdoor dining deck with sweeping views of the water and Manhattan’s skyline in the distance, The Wharf’s vista for a sunset cocktail can’t be beat. But eat? We had read and heard enough about the food to know there were probably better restaurants in Rockaway Beach.
Even so, on a recent evening, as our cocktails on that famous deck were disappearing, the vaunted view was nudging us to stay.
How bad could the food truly be? We decided to find out …