To get to Nürnberger Bierhaus, we took a subway, a ferry, and a bus. It was worth it. As we entered, everyone at the bar turned, curious to see who was letting in the cold. We sat ourselves at a two-top, beneath wallpaper decorated with castles, sipped a light lager, and admired the collection of steins nearby. Garlands crisscrossed the yellow-and-brown dining room, while college basketball played on the flat screen and reflected off the plaques testifying support of local firefighters and police officers. This German restaurant on Staten Island crosses Middle America with Mitteleuropa. The result offers a warm, homespun atmosphere and yeasty, meaty staples.
We started with the German pretzels ($3), two twists of toasty dough. Fine on their own, they got better when we dipped them into mustard, including a smooth, nose-clearing version and a sweet, gritty second. Each bore the imprint of the knife, used to score the dough to prevent cracking, and the wire rack, where the pretzels were left to cool. The comically oversized basket in which they came made us wish we'd gotten two orders.
The gulaschsuppe "zigeuner art" ($4.95), goulash cooked "gypsy style," was less spicy than advertised on the menu. Still, we appreciated the tender chunks of beef and herb-inflected tomato soup. We'd anticipated a thick stew, so the thinness of the broth threw us a little.
Our wienerschnitzel ($9.95 at lunch, $17.95 at dinner) wouldn't win any beauty contests, a misshapen lump of light brown alongside a bigger misshapen lump of dark brown and yellow. The veal could have used a little less breading, but that's a quibble: it's a solid schnitzel, pounded paper-thin and with good separation between the crispy coating and the soft meat. What really made this dish for us, though, were the homemade homefries, a melange of crunch and fat, a mixture of potatoes and bacon, a truly delicious side of warm, salty food.
Atop the curry-wurst ($5.95) came a syrupy sauce, thinner than ketchup, with only a faint echo of curry powder. The sauce evoked the sweet-and-sour packets that used to come with chicken McNuggets at McDonald's. The sausage itself snapped with each bite, something that never happened at the fast food emporium. True wurst-connoisseurs will opt for the wurstteller mit allem drum & dram ($15.95), a sampling of four types of sausage, including kielbasa. We, however, had New Year's Resolutions to keep about eating our entire caloric intake for the week in one sitting.
Here, moustaches and work shirts are worn unironically. The animal heads probably were shot and stuffed by patrons, whose names are carved into championship dart plaques and 9/11 memorabilia along one wall. Patrons follow a pattern seen in restaurants everywhere: midday regulars at the bar and workers refueling with thick sandwiches give way to middle-aged couples out for an early supper, whose warm stools and chairs are eventually filled with young people out for drinks and fun. With its utter unpretentiousness, Nürnberger Bierhaus is best for: a gute zeit.
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