Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Inside Old Europe. The server in the distance is announcing a birthday.

by Carol Joynt

Restaurants don’t have to be new and trendy to be important to a community. They must fill a niche, be good at it, stay pretty much the same and stick around for a long, long time. In Washington, few restaurants match that outline as well as Old Europe. It is one of the city’s few German restaurants, the food is good and more or less authentic, and at 62 years old it easily qualifies as venerable. Anyone who has lived in DC for a while has likely stepped into the festive atmosphere, especially when cooler weather of fall awakens an appetite for wursts and schnitzels.

Don’t even think of walking into Old Europe without your appetite on, and with your thirst right alongside.

Old Europe is on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington's Glover Park neighborhood, situated between a parking lot and Pearson's wine store.
For my neighbors Jeff and Elizabeth Powell, and me, Old Europe has become an Oktoberfest tradition, if two visits in three years can count as a tradition. The birth of two children (theirs) slowed down our pace a little. But we agree it is something we’ll do every October, because we get a kick out of the food, the cozy and cluttered Bavarian décor with its oomp pa pa vibe, the piano music, and it’s just up the hill from Georgetown. Few restaurants are as spirited and jovial, and, with the waitresses in dirndls, Old Europe provides costume dining at its most charming.

The restaurant’s history is covered succinctly on its website: “The Lichtenstein family opened the Old Europe with the idea of serving delicious European cuisine, offering the best international wines, and serving great German beer. In the early 1970s Karl Herold took over the reigns of Old Europe after working with the Lichtensteins for 10 years.” The site includes a photo from the opening in 1948 that shows the owners in traditional dress, leaning against a beer wagon drawn by Clydesdales. Wisconsin Avenue was a quieter boulevard back then.

They may call the cuisine “European,” but to me it is quintessential German. I lived in Germany for four years and in addition to becoming hooked on Gummi Bears I also learned to appreciate the food. I can’t eat it daily, but it’s a treat every now and then and especially when it is snowing. Old Europe is such a fun destination with the first snow, and the second and third ...

Menu items that stand out include Gemischter Rote Beete- & Krautsalat – a Jeff Powell favorite – which is pickled red beets with white and red cabbage. I love the Wurstteller, an assortment of German sausages, including Bratwurst and Knackwurst. A lunchtime version of this dish includes Bauernwurst and Weißwurst paired with sauerkraut and potato pancakes. The condiments are a choice of three mustards, the best being the one that is homemade. Elizabeth Powell favors the pretzels with cheese, which fortunately she shares.
Inside Old Europe's dining room.
Old Europe is popular with as many couples as large groups.
"Please take our picture." It's that kind of restaurant.
Servers in their dirndls. "Please take our picture, too."
Old Europe specializes in schnitzels. There’s the Schnitzel Old Europe, which is their secret house preparation but I know includes mushrooms; traditional Wiener Schnitzel, prime breaded veal steak that is sautéed and garnished with lemon (also available with pork or chicken); and Jägerschnitzel, which is veal steak that is not breaded but is served with a mushroom cream sauce, crispy bacon and spätzle.

Another favorite is the Sauerbraten of marinated slices of beef in a sweet and sour raisin sauce, topped with toasted almonds, and served with potato dumplings and red cabbage.

The beef goulash, or Ungarisches Gulasch mit Spätzle, was not particularly photogenic, but what it lacked in on-camera poise it made up for with a meaty, spicy and irresistible flavor. It will warm you on the coldest nights of the year. Connoisseurs of Bavarian food also choose the Schweinshaxe Bayerische Art, quite simply roasted pork hocks served with sauerkraut and potato dumplings.
Elizabeth Powell considers the menu and...
orders a pretzel with cheese.
All these good dishes taste even better when chased by a cold beer. Old Europe has Gaffel Kölsch, Spaten’s Spring Bock, Köstritzer Schwarzbier and Warsteiner Pils on draft, served in sizes ranging from 10 ounces to a monster 32 ounces. There’s also Ein Stock Bier bitte, which is a sampling of each. They have more than 20 German beers by the bottle, including wheat beers, and for the adventurous there is “black” beer, or Schwarzbier, the darkest of lagers with a chocolate/coffee flavor.

The wine list is deep, varied and well priced, with most offerings between $35 and $50 a bottle. While Jeff had beer, Elizabeth and I shared a bottle of dry Riesling from Hummingbird. We liked it because it was not too sweet. Germany is best known for its white wines, and the varietals/regions covered include Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Baden, Nahe, Mittelrhein, and Franken. German red wines are lesser known, lighter on the palate and not heavily exported. Old Europe offers at least seven, as well as a dozen or more American, Austrian and French red wines.
German beer on draft, the essence of Oktoberfest. Medium dark German beer. The darkest beer is black.
Janiece Kent has played piano at Old Europe for 14 years.
The beginning of the Old Europe menu.
The brandy-infused Rüdesheimer Kaffee. Hummingbird dry Riesling.
Beet salad
The sausage sampler appetizer, which includes Bavarian Bratwurst, Knockwurst and Weisswurst, also comes with three types of mustards.
Potato pancakes with apple sauce.
Classic Wiener Schnitzel, served with potato salad and lemon.
Two views of the Old Europe fresh Apple Strudel
Whatever one eats or drinks at Old Europe it is important to save room for dessert, specifically the Apfelstrudel. The fruit is fresh and not jammy or overcooked, the pastry delicate, and with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream it sweetly completes the meal. If the weather outside is frightful, bolster the spirit with a Rüdesheimer Kaffee, coffee with Asbach brandy, chocolate shavings and topped with whipped cream.

Remarkably I left our dinner not feeling stuffed, though Jeff and Elizabeth thought maybe we should walk rather than drive home! Old Europe proves that an interlude with a time-honored cuisine can be rewarding. A citizen reviewer on a travel website nailed it: “Old Europe never gets old,” lush and romantic as I remembered, with gentle piano music in the background.
The brandy-infused Rüdesheimer Kaffee. Much of the art is from the Bavarian monks with brew or wine school.
This ship's model hangs over the bar in the back of the restaurant.
What looks like a Maypole with pretzels stands at the entrance to Old Europe.
From the inside looking out.
The ceiling is lined with steins and crests.
2434 Wisconsin Avenue
(202) 333-7600
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