Eichenkranz (which means “Oak Wreath” in German) was the name of a German immigrant social club and singing society founded back in 1894 that seems to have disappeared more than 50 years ago. The restaurant bearing its name occupies the club house that the club built in 1939 and you’ll find oak wreaths on the doors to the dining room as well as on the menu commemorating the club. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the restaurant since World War II days with many changes in ownership, long periods of closure and a stretch in the 1970’s as the Kozy Inn before it re-emerged under new owners and the old name featuring German style favorites in 1990. The dining room is a pleasant, large room with tables covered in white linens which offset the light sage green color of the restaurant’s walls and swirly plaster ceilings while large mirrors compensate nicely for the lack of any exterior windows and there’s a bar at the back of the dining room.
Our server, a classic Baltimore “hi, hon!” waitress, brought our table of six some good hot rolls to munch on while we looked over the menu. It features a dozen German specialties ($11-$15) but also a couple dozen non-German seafood, beef, chicken and veal dishes for under $20. We were also surprised to a see a handful of entrées under $10 (including ½ a fried chicken, spaghetti with meatballs, calf’s liver with onion) plus another half dozen nightly “specials” all under $10). Unusual sides include red cabbage, “German” string beans, and sauerkraut. Marty, John and two of our friends all wanted to try the sauerbraten ($11) but were confused after spotting a nightly special of “Sour Beef and dumplings” for $7 (isn’t that the same thing?) Our waitress explained that the “Special” was a small portion that came without any veggies. Four of us order the Sauerbraten (with a mix of red cabbage, “german” green beans and potatoes) while one friend went with a steak special for $9 while the other friend ordered Veal Parmigina ($13).
The Sauerbraten might be politiely termed “interesting” – two large potato dumplings and a handful of small chunks of beef were buried under a huge mound of the thickest gravy we’ve come across. Unfortunately, the four of us found that the gravy was pretty flavorless with not a hint of the gingersnaps or vinegar that we expected. The beef seemed dry (as if it been cooked separately from the gravy sauce) while the “fluffy” potato dumplings were pretty dense and heavy. (One of our friends took most of his Sauerbraten home and reported it was much improved after adding spiced vinegar and crushed gingersnaps to the gravy! Ah, if only Eichenkranz’s kitchen had thought of doing that!). Surprisingly for a restaurant featuring German food, our friends’ steak and veal looked way more appealing than the Sauerbraten. For under $10, the steak was big hunk of steak and with included baked potato and side salad made for a good meal. Similarly, the Veal Parmgiana had two big pieces of veal covered in a scrumptious brown crust, a side of spaghetti and a nice looking side salad. Our waitress kept looking in on us and brought us another basket of hot rolls (between smoke brakes out on the side walk in front! <Wink>); she also couldn’t believe that John didn’t eat his second dumpling and kept asking him about it like a nagging mom until she finally clear his plate (and what happened to that uneaten dumpling? What happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen! <wink!>)
While the thought of Apple Strudel or Black Forest Cake at a bargain-priced $2.75 tempted us, we passed on dessert (but we’ll admit to regretting that decision later!) While we can’t recommend the Sauerbraten, we guess that very reasonable prices (with under $10 bargain prices for some entrees), friendly service and a pleasant dining room (and maybe the proximity to the Quest bar!) can still provide reasons to visit Eichenkranz.
BUT if you want really good German food, there are better places around Baltimore to eat than Eichenkranz! (Hint: Try Dusenberg in Catonsville where the kitchen is run by a woman who lived half her life in Germany! )
FACTS: Eichenkranz – Highlandtown; 611 Fagley St; 410-563-7577; www.eichenkranz.co ; Full Bar; Not for Vegetarians!; Open for breakfast, lunch & dinner 7 days a week; Adjacent parking lot with parking for about 8 cars (though we found lots of parking on nearby Fleet St)