A Deutsche Haus
When I first started working downtown in the summer of 1991, I used to eat at Kolb's every so often. The first time I ate there was with my father, who told me that it had once been a very good restaurant, but that it had declined over the years. I was just happy to have a place where I could eat German food and drink German beer. The belt-driven ceiling fans and the overall atmosphere made me feel a connection to the past. I could easily see my paternal grandfather eating there with friends. Kolb's closed in 1994, the year I graduated from law school and began to work downtown full time. It was a shame, but everyone I knew said that it was long past its glory days, and just couldn't survive on reputation alone any longer.
As I recall, from that point New Orleans was without regular access to a German restaurant. A couple of chefs, Willy Coln, at the Hotel Intercontinental's Veranda, and Gunther Preuss at Broussard's, served German food during October or over the Christmas holidays, but that was it. That is, until Jägerhaus opened in 2008.
The restaurant's menu generally reflects the cooking of southern Germany and, to some extent, the cooking of owner Yarda Ramesh's native Czech Republic. When I was in college I attended a summer program sponsored by UNO in Innsbruck, Austria, and I had a chance to spend a good bit of time in and around Munich. I discovered quickly that the cuisine of that part of the world is greatly influenced by the reach of the former Hapsburg empire, which extended to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and beyond.
That's why in just about any restaurant in southern Germany or Austria you'll find a version of goulash, the stew that's most often associated with Hungary. It's on the menu at Jägerhaus, and while it's not as paprika-heavy as the gulaschsuppe to which I became addicted in Innsbruck, it's delicious. At Jägerhaus the dish is a thick stew the color of dark mahogany, full of tender beef. There's paprika in the dish, that's for sure, but it's not overwhelming. Served over hand-made noodles (called spaetzle in Germany), it's a filling dish. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Starters include potato pancakes served with sour cream and applesauce; soft-baked pretzels served with mustard; and skewers of knackwurst, bacon, and onion. The pancakes, which come four to an order and have about the same circumference as an orange, are slightly crisp on the outside and tender in the interior; almost too tender, as it happens. I enjoyed them, particularly with the combination of apple sauce and sour cream, but they bordered on gluey.
When I ate at Jägerhaus this week, I ordered a side of potato salad along with the pancakes to share as appetizers. I'm a fan of German potato salad; I like the balance between the rich potatoes, the smoky bacon, and the sour dressing. The version at Jägerhaus didn't disappoint me, though my dining companion thought it could have used a bit more tartness. (That said, she eats whole lemons. Seriously.)
With the goulash, I asked for a side order of sauerkraut, which (like the potato salad) was served warm. It's a good rendition of the dish, a little rich from pork fat, and with just the right amount of caraway seed. That's another thing about Jägerhaus: There's a restrained hand in the kitchen. The tendency these days it to go heavy where bacon is concerned, but doing that tends to overpower a dish for me. The potato salad had the perfect amount; we ended up leaving just a smidge of applesauce and sour cream when the pancakes were gone, and as suggested above, the goulash had enough paprika to give it a good flavor, but not so much as to overpower the dish.
My friend went with the Reuben sandwich, which was good. The fries that came with it, however, were excellent. I tend to prefer thin-cut fries, and these were thick, but I'll be damned if they weren't pretty much perfect. If I hadn't already eaten so much, I'd have considered asking for another order as a side.
There are a few salads on the menu, including the seemingly obligatory Caesar, and a potato and mushroom soup. In addition to the Reuben, there's a schnitzel sandwich that allows you to choose between pork and chicken for the meat. Both sandwiches come on marbled rye; the Reuben is made in the traditional fashion, with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing, and the schnitzel comes dressed with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato.
Entrees include wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten, jägerschnitzel, a grilled bratwurst plate, and chicken paprikash. Spaetzle, sauerkraut, fries and the potato salad are available as sides, as are red cabbage, mashed potatoes and a few items like asparagus with hollandaise and sweet potato fries that don't necessarily fit the Deutsche mold.
Desserts on offer are bread pudding with raisins, walnuts, almonds, and cinnamon; German chocolate cake; apple strudel; cheesecake; and a dish called black forest berries that's hot berries over vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I have to confess that I've yet to have room for dessert after a meal at Jägerhaus. If you have, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.
The restaurant is small; there are a few tables in the front facing windows that open onto Conti St., and a narrow seating area facing the bar that runs most of the length of the restaurant. Servers are not constantly at your elbow, but they're attentive, and the place is small enough that it's never a problem to catch an eye if you need something.
It's nice to be able to eat German food in New Orleans, given the significant cultural contribution Germans have played in the city's culture. While Jägerhaus may not have the same ambiance that Kolb's did, it's a welcome addition to the dining scene. Jägerhaus is located at 833 Conti St. (adjacent to Broussard's, as it happens), and can be reached at 525-9200.