by Richard Barry
Zee Germans. They do some things (most things) well and not by accident. Soccer, automobiles and any kind of meat dish are all examples of exacting German accomplishment. Capitol Hill’s Café Berlin keeps strong the German tradition of gourmet carnivorism by offering a menu of beef and pork that would make a butcher blush. Forewarning: You are not walking away without eating a sausage.
Found in the delightful row of alfresco restaurants off Massachusetts Avenue NE, Café Berlin serves classic German cuisine made from scratch. With native German chefs working the kitchen, the restaurant provides an authentic taste of the Deutschland that will more than satisfy your daily protein intake.
In the open-air seating area, guests enjoy glimpses of the Capitol Hill foot traffic while also a degree of trellised privacy from enclosing hedges. The patron mix ranges from Hill types unloosening their collars at happy hour to neighborhood couples stepping out for a bite.
I started my visit with a tall stange of crisp and light Früh Kölsch. Café Berlin’s beer menu is a stocked length of hard to pronounce pilsner, amber lager and bock imports. While menu skimming, guests must fight the urge not to fill up on bread and butter flavored like creamed potatoes.
To start out, I ordered the Herring mit Hausfrauensauce, pickled herring with house pickles, apples sour cream and red onions. Though ordered mostly out of curiosity, the appetizer combined tastes I had never in wildest dreams imagined with a good, tangy snap. Other eye-catching starters on their seasonal menu include the Schweinebauch (pork belly, roasted corn, arugula, peaches, pickled jalapenos) and the Flammkuchen (tomato cream, basil, roasted shisihito peppers, bacon, mozzarella).
For the main dish, I ordered the Rinderroulache, a rolled log of braised beef stuffed with bacon, carrots, caramelized unions and kosher pickles. Sides of dumplings and sautéed red cabbage mix well with the dish and give the meat heavy entrée a sweet uplift.
Though diners will find the straps on their lederhosen ready to pop after the main course, the desert tray is worth looking at if only for the dazzling spectacle. A clockwise arrangement of soft and fluffy pie slices covered in a shimmering glaze, the desert offerings are done by German-trained pastry chefs hailing from the Fatherland. I chose the peach, blueberry pie and felt no regrets even though I physically could eat only half.
Café Berlin brings German styled cuisine to Capitol Hill with precision and aplomb.