Hallo Berlin pretty much has a mini german empire in NY. Not only do they have their main restaurant and biergarten on 44th and 10th ave in Manhattan, but they also have an “express” storefront a few blocks away on 9th ave, a sausage cart thats stationed weekdays for lunch on 5th ave in the 50s, and even an alpine looking lodge in Conklin, NY.
A few years back, when I worked in Rockafeller Center, I waited on line for at least 35 minutes for the much hyped Hallo Berlin cart. I ordered the “Dictator Special”, which as advertiser with a photo of Stalin by its name, was a wurst and soup with no choice of which you got. Although it was good, I never went back since it was a couple of blocks worth of a walk, and the line wasted too much of my seldom full lunch hour. Other than that one time, I had never been to another of the other outpots of the Hallo Berlin german empire.
So yesterday I decided to finally make the cross town trip over to 10th avenue and visit the only place i can think of that bills themselves as the “würst restaurant” (which although amusing I find slightly odd since there’s no umlaut in wurst, that would be “wuerst”). Why yesterday? Well cause it was St. Patrick’s Day of course. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m about 1/4 irish (the only part that’s not german), but St. Patrick’s Day has become a holiday I rarely respect. On the way over to 10th street I passed by a large group of asian guys all with neon green cat in the hat foam hats on and “kiss me i’m irish shirts” stumbling through the street. If a St. Paddy’s Day celebration included traditional celtic music and food as well as irish beer and traditional snake wacking, I’d be up for it, however once things involve mardi gras beads it’s a different thing. I’d even say the same thing about Oktoberfest celebrations that involve whorish beer maiden outfits and dudes with “beer goggles”. Needless to say, that’s why I choose to go to a midtown biergarten on St. Paddy’s, in hopes that it would be empty.
Luckily my assumption was right, and since it was a really nice night out, Shaun and I got a seat at a picnic table in the outdoor biergarten. At the far end of the space is a concrete wall painted with what looks like graffiti of Brezhnev and Mao making out covered with Russian and English “tags” topped off with barb wire on top. Ah I get it, Hallo “Berlin”. Why not make our small outdoor garden more clostrophobic by making it feel like you’re behind (or right next to) the iron curtain! I actually think it’s pretty appropriate for the area since it is all the way on 10th Ave, which is pretty much the edge of the city. All this, and the fact that the large table next to us was packed with a group of Russian tourists all added to an East Berlin in 1988 (or perhaps a West Berlin in 1990 if that works better for you) kind of feel. It’s refreshing in that’s it’s different for the feel of most german places in the city or the US in general which usually play up an almost idyllic bavarian theme.
First things first on the menu, the Bier! They have an impressive list of draft biers including a helles, and the hard to find on tap “schwartzbier” (basically a german stout, it means “black bier”, as opposed to a dunkel, which is “dark”). All the biers are available in 4 sizes, a 1/2 pint, a stein (which was basically a pint), a humpen (which is german for stein, so i guess it’s like a mass?), and a pitcher. I have to say the biers were a bit on the pricey side. What most places charge for a mass, was what they charger for a pint, but with the ability it sit outside in March, I’m not complaining too much, so we both order the Koestritzer Black Lager (aka Köstritzer Schwarzbier, one of the most well know schwartzbier brewers who’s been around since the 1500s).
The menu seemed mostly made up of standard fair, written with a sense of humor. Decent lunch special, and a great choice of wursts. One thing on the menu I didn’t actually order that I will have to go back and try (and write up about of course) was the “Imported Smoked Pepperfish”. What that is I’m not actually sure, and an internet search only brought up the Hallo Berlin menu, but it sounds good to me. I opted for the choice of 2 wursts plate, which is pretty much a NY german place standard. I choose to get it with the cold german potato salad with a cucumber and green bean salad. I knew from their other locations (as well as with the previously mentioned motto) they are known for their sausage, so I figured this was the best bet. All their wursts are compared to german car makers on their menu, going from the VWs to the BMW of wursts. The the chicken sausage (called Alpinewurst) was compared to the Škoda, a czech made car now owned by VW. I didn’t let this throw me off, so I went with it anyway, as well as a Baurenwurst.
Have to say I was not dissappointed with the sausage. The alpinewurst was really good, Shaun’s currywurst was great as was my baurenwurst. The sides left a little something to be desired, the potato salad was fine, but not great, and Shaun couldn’t even finish his vinegared side salads. The plates themselves were less food than other places (which i have to admit can often be too much food, so I didn’t mind this too much). Surprising the plates also came with soup. I’m not generally used to soup coming with much of anything anymore in NYC. Usually it’s just something you have to order separate. I guess it sort of surprised our waitress as well, since she forgot to bring it out until after we were halfway done with our wursts. Overall the wait staff was slightly confused. Perhaps this was dude to a generally more busy weekday bar night cause of St. Paddy’s. Our sweet waitress told us she was supposed to get off at 6pm and was still working when she served us at 8pm.
To review over all, it’s got a small but decent backyard garden with a less classically german feel. Smaller portions (though not too small) for a little more, although it did come with soup. Good Bier selection, but a little on the pricey side per size. Best of all, great wursts. Also, karaoke every Friday (I’m not sure that’s a plus or a minus).