Restaurant Report: Currywurst in New York

Now that spring is here, you know that sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a beer hall of some kind. And after the first pint, you’ll inevitably want to grab a bite, if only to make yourself thirsty enough for the next round. Currywurst is exactly what you need. It goes great with beer, and the spicy sausage together with salty fries will make you long for another mug.

I’ve found four German joints in New York that feature currywurst on their menus. This post won’t really have restaurant reviews, since I’m only focusing on that one dish. All of these establishments are indoors, but what better way to spend a hot summer afternoon than inside an air-conditioned beer hall?

First, a brief history of the currywurst…

Currywurst - Wechsler's

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Restaurant Review: Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Czech Cuisine - Bohemian HallThe Bohemian Hall, in Astoria, is New York’s oldest beer garden. It was established in 1910, and is not to be confused with the Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side. The latter delivers culture, served as the venue for a celebration of the 70th birthday of Václav Havel, and hosts the best Czech restaurant in town; the former delivers… beer. Although it does boast a lime tree planted by the same Václav Havel, according to wikipedia. You’ll have to read on to find out about the food.

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Restaurant Review: Koliba

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Koliba, which means chalet in Slovak, is located in Astoria, not too far from the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. And as you can see from the frontage, it bears the peculiarity of serving cuisine from a country that no longer exists, and even brags about it on its web site — look at that beautiful Czechoslovakia in red on the map!

The interior is decorated like a hunting lodge, with stuffed animal heads, antlers and hatchets. You’ll find more (and better) pictures on their web site, too. And while you’re there, you might as well make yourself acquainted with the rules of the house. My favorite: “Take out orders are charged extra. Prices are subject to change without notice.”

The menu, of reasonable length, lists many Czech and Slovak classics: beef stews, pork roasts, schnitzels, dumplings, halušky (Slovak spaetzle), klobasa (sausage). Before ordering, keep in mind that the portions are really huge. Judge for yourself from the pictures below, but most dishes are about double the “normal” size.

The grilled sausage was smoky and juicy, as good Czech sausage usually is. I actually wonder if Czech restaurants make their own or order them from a butcher — I would think the latter, which is fine by me.

The langos arrived on a plate so large that it couldn’t fit entirely in the picture! It wasn’t bad, but the dough was a bit bland, with too much garlic and too much cheese. I would have preferred less cheese, but slightly melted.

The combination pork platter consisted of roasted loin of pork and smoked pork with red cabbage (lots of it) with an order of bread dumplings on the side. The roasted pork certainly didn’t look like loin to me, but all the meat was properly cooked and tender. The traditional dumplings played their sauce-mopping role to perfection.

The pork schnitzel (or schnitzels rather, since one portion includes two generous pieces) looked a lot like a chicken schnitzel, but was bland enough that we might never find out the truth. As is often the problem with schnitzels, it was rather dry. The dish could be significantly improved simply by adding some butter while frying, and serving it with an egg on top, and I don’t care if it’s not “the way it’s served in Czechoslovakia”! At least the fries were crispy. As for the under-ripe tomato and other tired vegetables, I’d like to shake the hand of a diner who actually eats them all.

The halušky, potato spaetzle with sheep’s milk cheese and bacon, were borderline inedible. First, the spaetzle looked liked giant greenish-greyish gnocchi and tasted rubbery and undercooked. Then there was the monstrous cheese sauce. Sure, it looks close enough to the reference picture on Wikipedia, but this is just an illusion. I certainly don’t remember eating anything that gross in Slovakia. To be fair, the bacon was good, but this just wasn’t enough to redeem the dish in any way.

The leftovers, minus the halušky that went straight to the trash, fed us for another meal and a half. I can only regret the quality didn’t always match the quantity. Oh, and if you’re one of those individuals with a special dessert pocket, they serve home-made štrúdl and crepes.

Cuisine: Czech and Slovak
Picks: grilled sausage, combination pork platter
Avoid at all costs: halušky
Food: 5 /10

Czech and Slovak Festival at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden

Last weekend, the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, NY hosted their annual Czech and Slovak Festival. For two days, bands and folk artists offered performances traditional and contemporary, Czech and Slovak. Here are the Czechoslovak Moravian Club Folk Dancers:

It’s worth mentioning the Bohemian Hall’s long history. At the end of the 19th century, many Czech and Slovaks fled Austria-Hungary and settled in Astoria. In 1910, the community purchased farmland and turned it into an authentic European beer garden, which has survived for over 100 years.

More dances:

This being Memorial Day weekend, we were also administered a triple dose of national anthems — Czech, Slovak, and American:

Some traditional dancing revolved around the valaška, or shepherd’s axe:

Of course, we didn’t come just to watch grown-ups gesticulating with hatchets. We were also there to taste the food, and the Bohemian Hall offered a special menu for the duration of the festival. Since the dishes were prepared in advance and kept on a steam table, it would be unfair of me to make a formal review. So here is a short account of the things we tried.

The pierogies came with two fillings, potato and mushroom. While the smaller mushroom ones were a little bit dry, the potato half-moons were moist and greasy (in a good way):

The homemade potato pancakes, served with a classic apple sauce and sour cream, contained way too much garlic:

The Moravian stew, with its traditional bread dumplings, consisted of tender cubes of pork in a caraway sauce. Quite nice.

Later in the afternoon, a long line formed as the outdoor grill started serving sausages and burgers. Here’s the country klobasa with fries. The klobasa was smoky and juicy, just how I like it. The crispy fries weren’t bad either!

There was even a welcome dessert stand, selling apple štrúdl, prune and cream cheese koláč, and a mixed berry cake. We only had room for the strudel, which, unfortunately, was dry and embraced the unpleasant American habit of drowning all apple desserts with cheap cinnamon.

All in all we had a very nice time at the Czech and Slovak Festival. But one final complaint: $8 for a shot of plain vodka is way too much money!