To many, the bucolic tree-lined neighborhood of Glendale, Queens is known as 'Little Germany,' although, as is wont to happen in New York, it's changing. "You used to walk the streets here and everybody spoke German, old ladies scrubbing the stoops outside, that kind of stuff," Werner Lehner recounted one recent Friday morning outside Stammtisch Pork Store and Imports on Myrtle Avenue. Lehner would know: his parents were Bavarians from Freising, outside Munich. His father, John, emigrated to Queens in the 1950s, and in 1972 he made his own mark on the thriving German community, opening Zum Stammtisch—a traditional Bavarian restaurant—at 69-46 Myrtle.
Werner and his brother Hans took over the restaurant in 1993. In March of 2011, they expanded, opening Stammtisch Pork Store and Imports. "A couple years ago, three, maybe four, well whatever it was, a couple places in the area closed down—old time German butchers, that kind of thing. So we thought there was a void you know, and we happened to have the building already [from the restaurant], so we figured we'd go with it." If the steady flow of shoppers ordering up slices of leberkäse and chatting with Lehner's wife Birgit about goings-on in the community is any indication, it's a good thing they did.
Little Germany may be dwindling, but you wouldn't know it walking into Stammtisch. This bastion of German goodies is especially reminiscent of Bavaria around December, where a spin of its impeccably appointed aisles feels much like a trip through Nuremburg's famous Christkindlesmarkt. "90% of the stuff here is from Germany" Lehner gestured to a corner crowded with numerous brands of lebkuchen, a type of German gingerbread made with nut flours.
"It's amazing how a lot of the Germans that are from this area know what they want. The Bahlsen brand stuff you can get everywhere, but the real Germans are looking for the special things on the shelves. And we have it!" (If you're making lebkuchen from scratch, Lehner carries the oblaten—akin to wafers—which traditionally back the German gingerbread.)
Stammtisch is done up in the traditional half-timbered Bavarian style New Yorkers may recognize from postcards of snowy cottages nestled in the Alps, and it's crowning identifier is its logo: a fat sausage being sliced open. It is a pork store, after all, and the sausages are certainly one of its main draws. The butcher counter boasts of every wurst you could imagine: knockwurst, bauernwurst, rice blutwurst, pinklewurst, bockwurst, weisswurst, bratwurst, several kinds of liverwurst, frankfurters (and mini franks!), and bratwurst shaped as burgers, too: bratburgers! "The sausages are from a local place here called Forest Pork Store [on the corner of Woodbine and Forest, in neighboring Ridgewood]. They're German to the core. They used to do retail but they're wholesale only now. We are one of the only places that has most of their products."
There isn't much on display as far as fresh cuts go, because Lehner assumes you'll just ask for what you want to be carved up on the spot. And there's some special housemade treats among the fresh and cured meats: jarred oschenmaul salat —pickled tongue, Lehner swears by it—tubs of herring salad, headcheese with mushrooms or olives, and stuffed belly, which is bacon, split open, stuffed with veal and peppers, thinly sliced, and eaten cold.
Sausages aside, the shelves are stocked with traditional German black breads, spices for homemade liver dumpling, packets of pudding and bitter almond extract, curry ketchup for currywurst in plastic squeeze bottles, sauerkraut, pickles, and every kind of Haribo candy. There are boxes of knödel mix (if you don't have time to make the time-intensive potato dumplings from scratch), mustard and horseradish (including A. Bauer's mustard, made in Ridgewood), and packaged spätzle in the fridge.
The beer selection's quite interesting as well, unsurprising given Lehner's childhood. "My whole childhood I used to spend at the Weihenstephan Brewery. My father knew the guys there, we basically grew up there. We'd go over on vacation, and he'd send me over and I'd just watch the bottles go by." The Weihenstephan brewery is the oldest still-operating brewery in the world, established in 1040, and Lehner stocks its entire line, including the much-sough-after Vitus you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in New York. There are beers from several other centruries-old breweries, as well, including Munich's Augustiner-Bräu (est. 1328) and Salzburg's Stiegl (est. 1482). In the summertime, Lehner carries a large selection of five-pint mini-kegs: "perfect for picnics!" he laughed, heartily.
What's not imported is made in-house, or by fellow Germans in Glendale. The back end of the butcher counter's given over to a warming station with leberkäse—a Bavarian specialty made by baking finely ground meats in a loaf pan (no, it's not meatloaf). Next to it sits a basket of freshly made pretzel rolls. Together they form Leberkässemmel, a Bavarian staple. "We make the leberkäse every day, serve it hot for lunch or whenever you're craving it." There's also homemade strudel and crumb cake, freshly fried potato pancakes and, if you don't have time to stop in next door at Zum Stammtisch for a bowl of their famous goulash, you can pick up frozen portions at Stammtisch.
At Christmastime, Stammtisch is decked out with enough treats to make any Northern European nostalgic for home. "This is the best stollen ever." Lehner paused in front of a stack of the holiday fruitcake. "Forget about all the stuff in Germany—which is good too don't get me wrong—but this stuff is the best. It's made for us by a bakery by my house. They've been doing the restaurant for 30 years. Sometimes its good to have these ties." To go with the stollen (and lebkuchen), there's Christmas Kinder chocolate and bars of marzipan, advent calendars and nougat with almonds, and festive bottles of (albeit nonalchoholic) Glühwein—mulled wine that's served steaming in mugs at outdoor markets in December. (Lehner stocks the spices too, for making your own.)
Lehner stopped to pose for a photo in front of the flags of Germany and Bavaria, next to the magazine display. "Yes, [the community's] changed, but there's a still a certain German enclave. There are a lot of eastern Europeans in the area now, too, and there are similarities in tastes and cuisines. And a lot of people come in because it's something different." Familiar or different, Stammtisch is worth the trip. And be sure to glance up at the door on your way out. Lehner and co. wish you a guten appetit!
Stammtisch Pork Store
69-46 Myrtle Avenue, Glendale, NY 11385 (map) 718-386-7200
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