Schulte & Herr, Portland
Posted on October 27, 2011
by Joe Ricchio
After enjoying an outstanding meal at a new restaurant, my first inclination is to regard it as a fluke. After having my hopes raised and then mercilessly smashed to the ground so many times, I prefer to keep my guard up for at least three visits, anticipating a bad one, before officially declaring my affection. In the case of Schulte & Herr, a new German/American eatery on Cumberland Avenue, each visit has continued to impress me more than the one before it.
Occupying the same space that housed Huong’s (a hole-in-the wall Vietnamese spot that served the best pho ga I’ve ever had) a few years back, the new owners have definitely spruced the place up. Though the decor is sparse, it is inviting and clean, allowing for the food to be the center of attention.
German cuisine is the polar opposite of what many would consider to be “spa food,” a fact that explains my immense enjoyment of it. Though Germans eat a broad range of foods, most agree that meat and potatoes are a match made in heaven with a chilled Kölsch or glass of Spätlese riesling. Presently, Schulte & Herr is not able to serve alcohol, which is one reason why they are only open for breakfast and lunch.
One of the most exciting elements of the fledgling brunch service is the Sunday roast, featuring different meats and gravy each week and served with potato dumplings plus one choice of side. On this particular visit they are serving beef, and based on the knowledge that I have no need to be productive for the next few hours, I am all over it. As a peace offering to my body I also order up a small house salad and a decaf coffee, which is quite flavorful. I drink it black to give other diners the impression that I am hardcore.
The light and refreshing house salad of crunchy greens, radish batons, cucumber slices, and tomato wedges mingles with delicate and tangy vinaigrette. After a few bites of salad I take a sip of my coffee; the two do not pair well at all, and I remember an experience in high school out to dinner with a few friends. That night, my friend Eric told me that there was a woman staring at me from across the restaurant. Each time I turned my head to look for the mysterious temptress, my “friends” unloaded a handful of salt into my coffee. After hearing “I’m serious! She’s right there!” for the fourth time, I decided that they were full of it and took a sip of the coffee. It was gross. Moving on…
One glance at my plate of beef pot roast smothered in gravy and I know that I have made a sound decision. As I take my first bite of the outrageously tender, fatty beef with rich, velvety gravy, I am forced to pause and chew very slowly, savoring each moment. Due to my impatient nature, food rarely has this effect on me. The steak knife placed on my table couldn’t possibly be more unnecessary in this situation. I can’t understand the exorbitant amount of money people spend on flavorless cuts of meat like filet mignon when a humble one like this can be transformed into something magical when placed in the right hands.
The golf-ball-sized potato dumplings are a cross between mashed potatoes and a matzah ball, with a single delicious crouton baked into the middle of each one. If it is possible to be both dense and light, the dumplings have achieved this effect with flying colors; at least that is what I tell myself as I use them to clean up rogue gravy on my plate.
For my side I choose the warm housemade toast smeared with butter. I pile the fattiest parts of the beef on to the soft bread, creating a combination so decadent even I feel a bit guilty about it. The guilt quickly fades when the owner informs me that there is actually a catchy name for this kind of behavior, “roast on toast,” and I begin to feel awful for anyone who is not fortunate enough to be experiencing this plate of food at this very moment.
Ordering dessert at brunch is without question a rarity for me, but I am not ready for the meal to be over quite yet. I noticed apple strudel being delivered to a neighboring table earlier in the meal, and I decide that I must have one for myself. Another cup of coffee is in orderthe pairing potential is now considerably more promising.
Layer upon layer of thin, flaky pastry filled with perfectly sweet apples, raisins, and nuts served with a dollop of fresh cream is the ideal conclusion to a rainy autumn brunch. After chatting with the very friendly owners for a bit, I saunter out into the street feeling slightly euphoric.
My three-course brunch has done me in, and I couldn’t be happier.
349 Cumberland Ave. | Portland | 207.773.1997