BERLIN — In a foreign city, the hungry visitor wants a warm welcome and good fare. Enter Gasthaus Renger-Patzsch and the gales of laughter rise above the conversational hum, suggesting a good evening lies ahead.
The wood paneled room is fitted with bare, maple-topped tables, long benches, and large monochrome photographs. It could have been a beer hall or a monks’ refectory. Yet the atmosphere is more akin to an extended family celebration. Diners span the generations, from grandparents with toddlers on their knees to all the ages in between. Hipster servers, wearing the requisite beards and large-framed glasses, weave between tables holding aloft tankards of ale and keeping up the spirited atmosphere with friendly chat.
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Situated in the Schoneberg district, Gasthaus Renger-Patzsch is a neighborhood restaurant serving regional cuisine. It is a short walk from JFK-Platz, the site of President Kennedy’s Cold War declaration, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” The area was also home to Albert Einstein before he fled the Nazis in 1932.
One might assume that Renger-Patzsch is the name of the proprietor or the chef. It turns out he was a pioneering German landscape photographer whose work adorns the walls. The owner of the restaurant, Oliver Schupp, inherited the collection from his grandfather, a renowned architect. (Visitors to New York can view more of his works at the Museum of Modern Art.) Schupp came to a career as a restaurateur after earning a degree in biochemistry. His interest in food was nurtured in his youth by a mother who translated cookbooks.
Pan-fried walleye with pine nut risotto and chanterelles.
The restaurant serves food from Alsace
(the region of France that borders Germany and Switzerland and which over the centuries has alternated between German and French control), which is the source of many its most famous dishes, such as sauerkraut. It is a cuisine with an emphasis on pork but it also favors local fish and vegetables. The menu showcases the marriage of French and German cuisines with blood sausage and bacon listed alongside dishes containing Calvados and Bleu d’Auvergne cheese.
Renger-Patzsch has a reputation for its assortment of flammkuchen, an Alsatian specialty known in France as tarte flambee. The origin of this dish, which translates as “baked in the flames,” is rural, said to have been created by farmers who measured the heat of their bread ovens by first baking a tart. Large and rectangular, served on wooden boards, flammkuchen is a free-form tart. Rolled thinly, baked until crisp, and topped with creme fraiche, slices of onion, and lardons of smoked pork fat, the flammkuchen a la maison here does the house proud. Yet it is the version of the tart called citrouille that excites the visual appetite with its additional topping of pumpkin strips and seeds.
Blood sausage and white beans.
A small but enticing list of entrees includes pike perch with horseradish leeks, guinea fowl with spinach and polenta fritter, and air-dried wild boar salami with mustard plums. There is also pork. Plenty of it. A plate of sauerkraut is served with smoked pork tenderloin, pork belly, salt pork, and smoked sausage, a dish for committed carnivores with large appetites.
German cuisine is big on dumplings. Often these are on the heavy side and can trigger an unpleasant bout of indigestion. Kaspressknodel (cheese dumplings) at Renger-Patzsch are formed by a chef with gentle hands. These are light and herby, briefly fried to crisp the exterior, and served in a delicate mushroom cream sauce.
Braised beef cheek with bacon-wrapped prunes has the full-bodied flavor of a slow-cooked dish, luxurious in a sauce as black as balsamic, accompanied by scoops of mashed potato. Another deeply satisfying sauce complements stuffed veal breast with black salsify. The kitchen’s aptitude for reduction makes it difficult to maintain a modicum of table manners and resist licking one’s plate clean.
Large portions leave no space for dessert, which might be apple strudel or pear sorbet.
We bid auf weidersehen to our delightful server and make our way to the subway, feeling unusual envy for the residents in their elegant apartments, not just for their locale, but also because they have the kind of restaurant everyone wants on the block.
The dining room.
54 Wartburgstrasse, 1083 Berlin-Schoneberg, 011-49-30-784-2059, www.renger-patzsch.com
Madeleine Morrow can be reached at [email protected]