Das Ist Gut: Deutschland in DC

Andrew LaPorta at Biergarten Haus

Can’t afford a pricey ticket to Munich this Oktoberfest? No problem. Pull up a seat at one of Biergarten Haus’ tables, meet some new people, drink some good beer and enjoy great food.

Andrew LaPorta, executive chef of the authentic beer hall, grew up mostly in Southeast Asia and Turkey. He calls himself a “diplobrat” and was initially interested in cooking and restaurant business because his mom, a diplomat, usually worked all day and held dinner parties at night.

LaPorta moved to Italy for some time to hone his culinary skills, was the executive chef at the IMF and worked at 1789 before ending up at the Biergarten Haus where he’s been for about a year.

The chef said that he wants diners to be relaxed and have fun and enjoy the meal when they come to visit.

“Obviously it’s a very communal place, so you may sit at a table with people you’ve never met before. You may be surprised there is a decent level of food here in what is essentially a beer hall. Everything we do here is from scratch – we cut and pound our meat for the schnitzels and the pork is braised for six hours.”

Speaking of pork, Chef LaPorta’s favorite dish to cook is the crispy pork shank. It’s a natural fit, because this guy knows his meat. Aside from also cooking at The Russia House in Dupont Circle, LaPorta has a side business where he makes his own prosciutto, sausages and salamis.

But does being of Italian background and cooking German and Russian food for a living make any sense?

“I get asked that question all the time,” La Porta said. “If you take the time, care and attention to cook the food properly and use good ingredients, the message is the same but the nuances are different. Cooking is the same all over the world – I’m doing nothing our grandmothers haven’t done.”

When LaPorta isn’t creating delicious food or homemade sausages, he spends his time with family or eats at his favorite place, Thai Square, in Arlington. He says the secret is that the chef is from Laos. Another favorite is Bangkok Golden in Seven Corners.

The selection of German restaurants in the DC metropolitan area is decent, but Chef LaPorta thinks Biergarten Haus is filling the gap between great beer and good food.

“There are several beer places around but I do think that with our authenticity and attention to detail, we are filling a gap in DC. Would I say we’re filling a gap for German restaurants? Probably not, but people are surprised by the level of food here.”

And get ready for some serious Oktoberfest celebrations. Chef LaPorta said the restaurant is planning a special menu for the occasion and will be importing the best German Oktoberfest beers.

Biergarten Haus:1355 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-4053; www.biergartenhaus.com.

Try a Taste of Germany

Beer, brats, sausage, wiener schnitzel and apple strudel all come to mind when thinking about traditional German cuisine. Here are a few places in the DC area to enjoy some of this traditional food in an authentic atmosphere that, of course, involves lots of beer and, after that, more beer.

Cafe Berlin
Situated on the ground floor of three adjoining townhouses close to Union State, Cafe Berlin serves German cuisine with a lighter flair. From goulash to chilled fruit soup, a baked wheel of Brie to potato pancakes, the starters will please most palettes and range from $5-$11. The entrees are a mix of authentic German food like Jägerschnitzel (sautéed pork with a bacon and mushroom sauce) and Deutsche Wurstplatte (a mix of bratwurst and weisswurst with sauerkraut) plus more traditional American fare like salmon and duck. Main courses range from $18 – $23. Desserts, which include apple strudel, black forest cake and cream tortes are all made in-house and not to be missed.
Café Berlin: 322 Massachusetts Ave. NE, DC; 202-543-7656; www.cafeberlindc.com

Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe
German breads and pastries, cakes, bagels and, of course, chocolate and cheese sticks are the main events at this authentic bakery. All of the breads are made from imported German flour. Try Bienenstich, a yeast dough with Bavarian cream filling with almonds and honey on top, chocolate truffles or pies such as apple custard tart or fruit flan with Bavarian cream. On Saturdays, patrons can enjoy the outdoor BBQ cart that serves up brats, strudels and pretzels.
Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe: 2150 N Culpeper St. Arlington, VA; 703-527-8394; www.heidelbergbakery.com

Schmankerl Stube
This cozy Bavarian restaurant was founded by Bavarian native Charlie Sekulam, who prides himself on providing the most authentic and tasteful food from that region of Germany. Sekulam also created an outdoor “Biergarten” for guests to enjoy food, drink and delicious homemade German desserts. Don’t worry about pronouncing the menu items like Schwäbisches Zwiebelfilet (medallions of pork & beef filets toppped with a creamy onion sauce), Knusperige Schweinshaxe (pork shank Bavarian style) or Allgäuer Käspätzle (Spätzle with Swiss cheese and fried Onions). Everything is authentic and fresh Bavarian cuisine, prepared to perfection to give customers a memorable experience. And the beer is more than plentiful: German classics like Lager Beer, Hefe Weizen, Doppelbock Beer, Pils and Maerzen Beer are served in quantities all the way up to a five-liter beer stein. Now that’s a good night.
Schmankerl Stube: 58 S Potomac St., Hagerstown MD; 301-797-3354; www.schmankerlstube.com

Old Europe
First opened in 1962, this Wisconsin Avenue restaurant is decorated to make patrons feel like they’ve entered a little German town. The beer flows from several drafts and pairs perfectly with authentic schnitzel, breaded veal steak that is sautéed and served with lemon and potatoes, several different kinds of bratwurst, and the Gemischter Rote Beete, a pickled red beet salad with white and red cabbage. Plates are plentiful and range from $6 – $9.50 for appetizers, $18-$25 for main dishes and $6 for most desserts. Authentic German beers are available from the draft in three sizes up to a liter for $11. If you want to try them all, it’s only $8!
Old Europe: 2434 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; 202-333-7600; www.old-europe.com.

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