Travels with Frenchie Part VI: the old world

Release Date: 2009-02-25

Welcome to the sixth and final installment of Travels with Frenchie, a monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explores our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As with last month’s championing of India Taj-Palace’s buffet, our core team consisted of Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), and me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker). We were joined this month by “Congressman” Al Rindfuss, a two-time contender for Texas’s 23rd Congressional District and occasional Current informant.

Traveling with Frenchie requires quick footedness and an ability to adapt. As we pulled into the parking lot for Zaki, a Mid-Eastern restaurant at Babcock and 410, we realized the place had closed for good — a shame because they served an excellent falafel, perhaps the best in town. Au revoir.

Thanks to the diverse restaurant scene surrounding the Med Center, another candidate from our list was just down the street — Old World German Restaurant (Delicatessen & Konditorei), located at 1546 Babcock. We entered through the large wooden doors; Eva Postelle from Munich waited to take our order at the counter. Frenchie mentioned that he once worked at a popular hotel in Munich, which brought a smile to Eva’s face.

Quickly, our decision became a referendum on meat, potatoes, and cabbage. Carlos prefers meat grilled rather than boiled, a choice that I echoed. Adding to this quandary was Congressman Al’s unexpected disapproval of veal, based on how young calves are treated. Congressman Al admitted that adult bovines don’t have it so great, either, but we respected his soft spot for the innocence of youth.

An awkward stalemate had developed. Finally someone blinked and Fabien ordered sauerbraten, a marinated roast beef with gravy served with spaetzle (tiny egg noodles). After this initial breakthrough the rest of the order was quickly completed: jaegerschnitzel (pork loin with mushrooms and gravy), bratwurst (grilled pork sausage), bockwurst (boiled veal sausage; Congressman Al must have been distracted), potato pancakes served with a generous portion of applesauce, and the special of the day, goulash. 

Throw in a few beers and a lemonade, and the bill came to around $80.  Though I hadn’t eaten yet, I found myself in need of a Heimlich maneuver; the price had lodged itself in my throat like a rock. The tab seemed high for an order-at-the-counter operation (entrees ranged from $9.95 to $18.95) but we reserved final judgment.

We found a booth in a corner surrounded by taxidermy, oil paintings, and a chandelier. The mood picked up quickly as the plates began arriving at our table. Our favorite dish, by far, was the jaegerschnitzel with “oven fried” potatoes. The pork loin was thin but tender. The mushroom sauce was slightly sweet and smooth and was a hit with everyone for reasons we can’t completely articulate. Carmelized onions brought rich sweetness to the slightly crisp potatoes, which also were a big success.

Neither the bratwurst or the bockwurst stood out. They weren’t bad but lacked any distinctive flavor and weren’t much better than what one would find at Beethoven’s for less than half the price. The red cabbage had too much clove for Frenchie’s taste. The goulash beef tips were of good quality but the tomato-based sauce could have used more paprika.

In general, the food seemed authentic and fresh but for the most part lacked either the portions or nuance in flavor to justify the cost. As an afterthought Al ordered a slice of whipped-cream cake with white chocolate and raspberries. Out of nowhere, the flavors exploded. And it was then that we realized that Old World shines as a konditorei, a café with pastries. I look forward to returning for a stein of beer, German coffee, and a taste of Eva’s wonderful handmade desserts.

 Final thoughts:

Congressman Al: If you’re craving German food, you’re probably German … but you could do a lot worse for yourself than this place. After all, German food is effectively Europe’s comfort food.                       

Carlos Montoya: The wurst needed something more. I was expecting a punch in the face in terms of flavor.

Fabien Jacob: The jaegerschnitzel was by far the best entrée. The dessert stands out above everything.

Mark Jones: As a konditorei, Old World is right at home.

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