Oct 17th 2015

The Black Forest of Brooklyn

by Glen Roven

Glen Roven, Emmy Award winner, is a composer, lyricist, conductor, pianist, translator and CD Producer.


I was floating out of a sublime concert the other night--the opening of Brooklyn Art Song Society's tenth season, a brilliantly programed blend of Purcell (complete with Lute accompaniment) and Britten--when I realized I couldn't leave (as Whitman said) the "beautiful hills of Brooklyn!" I had to walk around, take in the atmosphere and bask in the night air.

Too much has been written about cool, trendy Brooklyn, but every time I make the trek I realize I don't care if it's become a cliché of everything hip and happening. Brooklyn is wonderful, and I love it.

I went to the concert with Wil Crutchley, a former chef at Le Bernadin, Le Cirque and Payard, and now private chef to the movers and shakers of Manhattan; I figured we'd find a restaurant, have a quiet dinner and Wil could explain Brooklyn cuisine to me.

No such luck. At 10:30 PM on a Friday Night in Fort Green, the last thing possible was a quiet meal. Fulton Street was buzzing with artsy-types direct from BAM or Theater for a New City, plus a diverse group of locals enjoying the gorgeous fall weather. Happily we wandered into Black Forest Brooklyn, and had a sensational meal!

Black Forest Brooklyn (733 Fulton Street) is a German Indoor Biergarten and Kaffeehaus serving regional German specialties. The casual atmosphere was enhanced by the communal picnic tables spread out over a large loft-like area with cuckoo clocks decorating the back wall; the place was packed with people and their beers; Oktoberfest had begun and the locals--Jamaicans, Asians, Jews, Italians, possibly even a few Germans--celebrated with a fervor, each tossing down one of the 14 different German beers on tap.


I joined the festivities, ordering what seemed to me the most exotic beer on the menu: the Rothaus Tannenzäpfle, billed as the only unpasteurized German beer available in the US. Louis Pasteur be damned, this was sensational: full, round, cold fermented and slow brewed to perfection. Wil had the Hofbräu Original, another full-bodied, well-balanced Bavarian Lager but with a lighter touch. We toasted Oktoberfest and the meal was off to a rousing start. No, we didn't sing "Lonely Goatherd." (Well, maybe just a chorus.)

I'm sure because she sensed we were from (again from Whitman) "the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it," co-owner Ayana Holler came to our table and welcomed us to her restaurant. Ayana, like a German Liza Minnelli in her "Ring Them Bells" period, traveled round the world to meet her husband, who was actually the boy next door. She grew up in Sulzburg, a tiny village south of Freiburg in the rural foothills of the Black Forest, and Tobias, her husband, grew up in Pfaffenweiler, about ten miles away; but they didn't meet until they both moved to Brooklyn (Yugoslavia, yet?--for those who get the Liza reference), where they decided to open this restaurant, a first for both. They shopped their idea to local landlords, most of whom were reluctant to rent to first time restaurateurs; happily, they found a sympathetic owner who loved the idea of a German Beer Hall right in Fort Green. Two years later, the place is flourishing.

Ayana recommended the Champignons Im Bierteig (Beer-battered, fried champignon mushrooms and aioli) as appetizers. She said that there were many vineyards in Sulzburg, and the entire town joined in with the annual grape harvest, after which this mushroom dish was the traditional celebratory meal. How could I resist that story? Wil, who said he could never cook something like that for his health-conscious clients, raved, "They were perfectly done, crispy and meaty with a delicious umami flavor. The dip was not a traditional aioli; there was a savory dairy component that gave it something more."

Wil was astonished by a neighbor's Riesenbrezel which looked like the most perfect, enormous, quintessential German pretzel. As a second appetizer, we ordered the Flammhuchen, is a thin-crust flat bread which Ayana said was one of the most famous gastronomical specialties of the Black Forest region. It was invented by the Alemannic German-speaking farmers from Alscae and Bade to test the heat of their bread baking ovens. Will said it was a reminiscent of a soft lavash, and non-chef me, thought it was like a soft, thin-crust pizza. In any event, the sour cream on top seemed more like a thinned cream cheese and blended deliciously with the smoked slab bacon and caramelized onions. This meal was getting better and better!


Like every good Jewish boy from Brooklyn I had to have as my main dish the Weisswurst, two Bavarian veal and pork sausages with sweet Bavarian mustard. I must confess I always get a guilty pleasure eating sausages (see my review of Treif, also in Brooklyn), and these were particularly plump and succulent. Will had the traditional Jägerschnitzel Mit Spätzle, breaded veal cutlet, wild mushroom gravy, homemade German egg noodles and house salad. I'm not sure what the German translation of comfort food is, but whatever it is, this was sure it: filling, fine and warm. Wil again: "I love German food and this is much better than the food I've had in Germany."

Ayana told us that the Black Forest Cherry cake, Schwarzwälder Der Kirschtorte was a recipe she'd been making since she was twelve; I had been salivating since she first mentioned it. It arrived, and we were not disappointed. I marveled at how the cherries marinated in cherry brandy added a special sweetness to the chocolate. Wil: This was obviously a German recipe because the chocolate cake wasn't as cloyingly sweet as the American version. It was the perfect balance of rich and light." They also sent over an unordered Apple Crumb cake, Warmer Apfelkuchen Mit Sahne (I love typing the German names) which was a delicious surprise, jam packed with thinly sliced apple, the first taste, an explosion of cinnamon and nutmeg. The apple was condensed and retained the heat extremely well, which made a perfect foil to the excellent homemade vanilla ice cream.

These desserts were far too big for two people, though we made a damn good attempt. Happily, I noticed Michael Brofman, the artistic director of Brooklyn Art Song Society, drinking with his singers from the concert a few tables over. I introduced myself and invited them to share our sweets, which were instantly devoured. (Singers are always hungry!)

I'll give Chef Wil the last word: "I'm definitely coming back and bringing more friends."

Viva Brooklyn! (A friend wanted me to end the piece with a different salute, a more Germanic salute to Brooklyn. I declined.)

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jan 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "During the second world war, Nazi Germany banned all listening to foreign radio stations. Germans who overlooked their duty to ignore foreign broadcasts faced penalties ranging from imprisonment to execution. The British government imposed no comparable ban which would have been incompatible with the principles for which it had gone to war. That’s not to say, though, that it wasn’t alarmed by the popularity of German stations. Most effective among the Nazis broadcasting to the UK was William Joyce. This Irish-American fascist, known in Britain as “Lord Haw-Haw”, won a large audience during the “phoney war” in 1939 and early 1940, with his trademark call sign delivered in his unmistakable accent: 'Jairmany calling, Jairmany calling'. "
Jan 6th 2021
EXTRACTS: "The revelation of Trump’s hour-long recorded call with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, over this past weekend crossed a new line – a line that not only set a high-water mark of moral reprehensibility, but a legal line as well, specifically in his pressuring Raffensperger to 'find the 11,780 votes' that would hand Trump the state and his veiled threat (' it’s going to be very costly…') if Raffensperger failed to comply. ........ Raffensperger – who has been forced to endure intense pressure, intimidation and threats – has proven himself to be a man of integrity and principle."
Jan 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "A final, perhaps more sinister, possibility is that Johnson knows exactly what he is doing. His political style evokes a unique blend of dishevelled buffoon and privileged Etonian. He is someone who likes to bring good news and doesn’t take life too seriously. Making tough, controversial decisions threatens this persona and so hiding in the shadows until his hand is forced helps him to reconcile his identity threat."
Dec 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "The resultant loss of land, the growing impoverishment of its citizens, and the hostile actions of Israeli occupation forces and settlers have forced many Bethlehemites to leave their beloved city and homeland. Given these accumulated violations of human rights and their impact on Christians and Muslims, alike, one might expect Christians in the West to speak out in defense of these residents of the little town they celebrate each year.  That, sadly, is not to be – most especially (and I might add ironically) among powerful Christian conservative groups in the US which, after all, claim to be the defenders of their co-religionists world-wide."
Dec 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "Worldwide, people donate hundreds of billions of dollars to charity. In the United States alone, charitable donations amounted to about $450 billion last year. As 2020 draws to a close, perhaps you or members of your family are considering giving to charity. But there are, literally, millions of charities. Which should you choose?"
Dec 1st 2020
EXTRACT: " The Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde – From Signac to Matisse and Beyond, examining the immense influence of this art critic, editor, publisher, collector and anarchist............A crucial feature of anarchism is the emphasis on the individual as the fundamental building block, the essential point of departure for any human association whatever. The individual was characterized by Grave in 1899 as a social creature who should be “left free to attach himself according to his tendencies, his affinities, free to seek out those with him whom his liberty and aptitudes can agree.” "
Nov 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "As the pandemic raged in April, churchgoers in Ohio defied warnings not to congregate. Some argued that their religion conferred them immunity from COVID-19. In one memorable CNN clip, a woman insisted she would not catch the virus because she was “covered in Jesus’ blood”. "
Nov 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Here are just a few ways exercise changes the structure of our brain."
Nov 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Perhaps it is Piller’s discovery that when it comes to war there is no such thing as innocence...."
Nov 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "I imagined America as the land of the free that gave voice to the forgotten. Where race, color, and creed do not matter and human rights are guarded with zeal. Where the ingathering of all cultures and people made it richer and human resources and talent knew no limits or constraints. Where opportunity awaits the able and generosity is extended to the needy. Where everyone is equal before the law and political differences are valued to make America better. Where sacrifices are willingly made to right the wrong morals and fortitude guide its leaders. Where caring about friends and allies is the hallmark of the nation and opposing oppression near and far is the emblem that distinguished America. This is the character of America. This is the soul of America. This is what made America great. The America that gave me a home. The America that fulfilled my dreams."
Oct 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "“The paintings which I propose to do will depict the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy” – this is how Jacob Lawrence described his project in 1954. Over sixty-five years later his proposal has, if anything, become only more urgent. Two days after this exhibition closes, Americans will vote in what is arguably the most significant election in a generation, an election that will measure our commitment to preserving that democracy, the struggle for which was Lawrence’s mighty theme."
Oct 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "There are also other ways our life stories can be passed down through generations, besides being inscribed in our DNA...... One 2014 study looked at epigenetic changes in mice. Mice love the sweet smell of cherries, so when a waft reaches their nose, a pleasure zone in the brain lights up, motivating them to scurry around and hunt out the treat.... The researchers decided to pair this smell with a mild electric shock, and the mice quickly learned to freeze in anticipation....... The study found this new memory was transmitted across the generations. The mice’s grandchildren were fearful of cherries, despite not having experienced the electric shocks themselves. The grandfather’s sperm DNA changed its shape, leaving a blueprint of the experience entwined in the genes."
Oct 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "As we Americans face the potential loss of a peaceful transition of power after the election and the possible end of democracy as we know it, we are reminded that discourse matters, that words matter and that the one who quotes poetry is a man who reads—and that matters."
Sep 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "We now know the potentially appalling long-term effects of suffering cruelty from others, including damage to both physical and mental health. The benefits of being compassionate towards oneself, rather than treating oneself cruelly, are also increasingly recognised..... And the idea that we must suffer to grow is questionable. Positive life events, such as falling in love, having children and achieving cherished goals can lead to growth..... Teaching through cruelty invites abuses of power and selfish sadism. Yet Buddhism offers an alternative - wrathful compassion. Here, we act from love to confront others to protect them from their greed, hatred and fear. Life can be cruel, truth can be cruel, but we can choose not to be."
Sep 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Over his incredible career, David Attenborough has seen more of earth’s natural wonders than almost anyone. To hear him talk, with such clarity, about how bad things are getting is deeply moving. Scientists have recently demonstrated what would be needed to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. As Attenborough says in the final scene, “What happens next, is up to every one of us”. "
Sep 15th 2020
EXTRACTS: "The Anglo-Australian multinational company Rio Tinto – the largest iron ore mining company in the world – demolished two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters in May.......The Dampier Archipelago of Western Australia is home to thousands of Aboriginal pictographs, and perhaps the oldest surviving rock art in the world. Indeed, Australia’s Indigenous art represents the longest uninterrupted tradition of art in the world – going back over 50,000 years......Aboriginal people represent the oldest continuous culture in the world...."
Sep 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution was a defining event that changed how we think about the relationship between religion and modernity. Ayatollah Khomeini’s mass mobilisation of Islam showed that modernisation by no means implies a linear process of religious decline.....Reliable large-scale data on Iranians’ post-revolutionary religious beliefs, however, has always been lacking...........In June 2020, our research institute, the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in IRAN...conducted an online survey......The results verify Iranian society’s unprecedented secularisation."
Sep 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Just as you can upgrade your old computer’s operating system, culture can evolve even if intelligence doesn’t. Humans in ancient times lacked smartphones and spaceflight, but we know from studying philosophers such as Buddha and Aristotle that they were just as clever. Our brains didn’t change, our culture did."