Andre R. was a very eccentric pal of HG/BSK during HG/BSK’s long ago summers on Fire Island. A Swiss-born “futurist” (whatever that job entailed), Andre was perpetually stoned on weed. He would arrive every summer at HG/BSK’s dune house (as he would get older, the women accompanying him would get younger). Upon arrival, Andre and his youthful female friend would remove their clothes (to the delight and amazement of the little kids present) and leap into the sea. Upon their return, Andre would cook a splendid dinner and give HG/BSK some very high grade marijuana. Happy days. On a particularly steamy August day, Andre stopped at Schaller & Weber (the famed German butcher in the Yorkville section of Manhattan) and brought to Fire Island a pork knuckle, a big uncooked sausage and kassler rippchen (smoked pork chops) plus, of course, sauerkraut. HG/BSK were dubious about eating such heavy food at the end of a steamy summer day. Andre simmered it in a pot with onions. He boiled potatoes. The sun went down. Appetites were sharpened by weed and icy vodka. Hot mustard, pickles and plenty of cold beer. A memorable feast. HG thought about Andre last night as HG/BSK and visiting grandson Handsome Haru devoured a flank steak a la Andre. This was a flank steak barbecued after a long bath in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic and honey. Andre scored the steak with a sharp knife before putting it in the marinade. The honey in the marinade would caramelize the surface of the meat. Cooked rare and sliced on the bias, this was consumed with many ears of in season corn on the cob. No corn last night. Just BSK’s sublime smashed potatoes.
Choucroute simply means sauerkraut. Choucroute Garnie (on French brasserie and bistro menus) is sauerkraut cooked with a variety of pork products. Chez Jenny in Paris has always been touted as a great place for Choucroute. HG disagrees. The Paris best is Brasserie de I’Isle St. Louis. Despite a touristy location near Notre Dame, the brasserie turns out serious, old fashioned French food. Dedicated foodies say that to taste real choucroute one must travel to Alsace. HG is not that dedicated and likes BSK’s home cooked choucroute. BSK rinses a jar of Bubbie’s sauerkraut and cooks it with onions, juniper berries and white wine (SJ notes that a nice Riesling is the preferable choice). Adds Kassler Rippchen (German smoked pork chops from Schaller & Weber online) and knockwurst. Serves it with boiled potatoes, French cornichons and Keen’s English Mustard. Noted food writer Jeffrey Steingarten attempted to codify the ingredients of Choucroute in his wonderful book The Man Who Ate Everything, but one of the joys of making the dish at home is going to a good German/Polish/Alsace butcher (SJ reccomends Jubilat Provisions for Brooklyn folk) and picking out numerous yummy things. Cold beer or ale with a shot or two of chilled vodka are the obligatory beverages.
The Yorkville section of Manhattan (the East 80’s) has gone through many changes. Historically, it had many restaurants serving hearty German food, bakeries specializing in strudel and butchers offering a staggering variety of sausages. Then, during the 1930’s, there was a shift to the dark side when the neighborhood, which housed many Germans, became the center of the Nazi affiliated German-American Bund headed by Fritz Kuhn. The war ended the life of the Bund and the neighborhood once more returned to gemutichkeit and jolly restaurants where HG dined on rollmops (pickled herring wrapped around dill pickles); big, crisp veal schnitzels topped with fried eggs and anchovies; opulent pastries toped with gobs of whipped cream. The real estate developers took over in the 1960’s and Yorkville is now a faceless neighborhood of “luxury” apartments houses. Amid all of the changes one constant has remained: Schaller & Weber. Located since 1937 at 1654 Second Avenue (86th Street), this is the last German butcher shop in Yorkville. It is a splendid institution. Schaller & Weber describes itself as “Masters of Charcuterie.” Accurate description for the delicious treats HG ordered online from them and enjoyed in a lavish choucroute. BSK prepared a pot of sauerkraut enriched by sliced onions, white wine and a touch of olive oil. Lesley R. boiled some tiny potatoes and showered them with chopped dill. Kassler ripchen (smoked pork chops) were warmed in the kraut. Knockwurst, Nurnberger bratwurst, weisswurst were grilled and lightly browned. Six varieties of mustard on the table, Bass Ale. Guinness Stout. White wine. Robiola cheese and grapes for dessert. Limoncello as a digestif. The holiday culinary delights continue.
Pleasant dinner last night. Divided the cooking duties. HG fried potatoes and cooked bratwurst (simmered in beer for 15 minutes and then grilled to a brown crisp). BSK made sublime sauerkraut. Drained Bubbie’s kraut and cooked it with onions, apples, olive oil and a bit of chicken stock. Subtle, non-acidic flavors. So. Kraut and spuds were first rate. Brats were okay. Just okay. Plenty of pungent Polish mustard and Bubbie’s Bread and Butter pickles plus Shiner Bock Beer (“The Pride of Shiner, Texas”) helped the cause, but just barely. It made HG muse: “Where are the brats of yesteryear?” For years one could get inexpensive, succulent platters of brats-kraut-home fries in scores of German restaurants throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Luchow’s, Blue Ribbon, The Heidelberg and Volk’s were the leaders of the pack and HG quaffed much beer at these Teutonic shrines of hearty eating. Other than The Heidelberg (opened in 1936) they are all gone, alas. Of course New York, being New York, still offers authentic German Food — and the great Yorkville butcher Schaller & Weber sells some of the finest brats around — but the golden age of cheap and delicious NY German restaurants is over.
Yes, in the sultry heat of summer, HG, like many other folks, prefers lightly fried, sauteed or steamed fish; also salads, fresh vegetables and fruits. Clams, scallops, mussels, shrimp and lobster go hand-in-hand with the summer months. Plus oysters ( eating oysters only in months with an “R” is not applicable on far north Prince Edward Island). However, there were two summer feasts — totally delicious and totally inappropriate for the season — that remain prominent in HG’s culinary memory bank. They were prepared by two very different people — Rex Reed and Andre Reudi. Rex Reed, an urbane television personality and newspaper arts/theater/music critic, was on Fire Island, the colorful barrier beach off Long Island, New York, where HG/BSK had summer homes for many years. Rex was visiting HG/BSK’s dear friends, the inimitable jazz duo, Jackie and Roy. Blazing hot day in August. Temperature in the 90’s. Rex prepared dinner, drawing upon his southern roots. A long cooked piece of roast beef liberally sprinkled with Cajun spices. The beef swam in a lake of dark brown, winey, spicy gravy. It was accompanied by super buttery mashed potatoes and slices of Wonder bread (to soak up any excess gravy). Reed baked lemon meringue pie. Every bit of the meal was consumed. With joy.
Andre Reudi, a Swiss nudist-futurist, prepared his memorable meal on a blazing June day some 50 years ago, just weeks before HG/BSK married. En route to Fire Island in their 1960 Cadillac, HG/BSK picked up Andre at the great Upper East Side German butcher shop, Schaller and Weber. Reudi had picked up a pork knuckle, sausages, sauerkraut, lentils, beer, pumpernickel bread, pickles, three kinds of mustard and Liederkranz cheese. All were loaded in an ice filled cooler. Upon arrival at HG/BSK’s home, the pork knuckle, sausages, lentils, sauerkraut, dark beer and some unidentifiable spices were dumped in a big pot. The oven was turned to a low heat. And, there the robust German stew simmered all day while HG/BSK played on the beach, body surfed in the ocean and gathered beach glass in walks by the shore. After the sun had set and pre-dinner Martinis (wine for BSK) were drunk, the pot was removed from the stove and ravenous HG/BSK and Reudi fell upon food. Absolutely Fabulous feast.