9:42 am Apr. 11, 20121
Is New York in the midst of a German invasion?
For the past five years, we’ve seen a steady influx of biergartens (BeerParc, Spritzenhaus, and Radegast Hall & Biergarten being just a few of the huger entries), while Prime Meats and Loreley have each put their spin on Bavarian spätzle and sauerbraten (and DBGB, Blaue Gans, and the Biergarten at The Standard have solidified German cuisine’s place in the city’s food pantheon). Now comes Landbrot, a set of twin downtown bakery/bars inspired by the pastry traditions of Swabia in Southern Germany.
German for “country bread,” Landbrot is the brainchild of friends and German expats Volker Herrmann and David Rothe, who both missed the tastes of their homeland while working and living here in New York.
“The variety of baked goods in Germany is unbelievably huge,” said Rothe last week, guiding me through a display of vintage German baking sheets at the 7th Avenue Landbrot location. “Because of the geography, it has been influenced by the surrounding countries of Italy, France and other areas. So as a result there are a lot of different breads. In normal German bakeries you would have at least 40 and 50 bread varieties, and then another 30 pastries. We’re not going to do all of them but we have chosen some of the best and most unique.”
Though scaffolding still obstructs most of the windowed façade, it hasn’t prevented swish euro couples and stroller-laden moms from weaving their way inside to peruse the walls lined with baked goods.
Landbrot’s signature loaf is roggenmischbrot, a round dark rye that is twice-baked to yield a distinctive heavy crust. But that’s just for starters. Some two dozen other breads and pastries are baked in the second-floor kitchen at the West Village location. Plus, brezeln (pretzels), mohnschnecken (poppy-seed-covered swirls), honig-senf brot (Cologne-style honey-mustard loaf), Berliners (jelly doughnuts) and the pizza-like tarts called flammkuchen.
“The most traditional [flammkuchen] is the Alsatian tart version,” said Rothe, “which replaces a tomato sauce with crème fraiche and is topped with onions. It’s absolutely delicious.”
Master baker Udo Fischer is decidedly not big on conversation, but he was happy to ply me with a crunchy cheese twist made with garlic and dried onions, then laugh as my eyes rolled into the back of my head.
Using Miwe refrigeration stations and rack ovens, Fischer has all of the best German baking technology at his disposal. The refrigeration station is essentially a proof-retarder. As yeast dough needs to be proofed before it is ready to be baked, the enormous refrigeration unit monitors specific levels of moisture and temperature to allow Landbrot to make multiple racks of dough in advance and then bake it all fresh the following day, without the yeast dying.
Already, various dessert-obsessed media outlets are debating whether the Landbrot Berliner will overtake the Donut Pub’s in terms of popularity. But for my Deutsche Marks, I’d rather indulge in the pretzel rolls—baseball-sized rounds of perfectly golden pretzel dough that have been scored halfway through the baking process to reveal their tender white insides (pictured, at right). Eaten on its own, the buttery outer shell provides a pleasing contrast with the starchy interior. Split and stuffed with thinly sliced Black Forest ham and a generous smear of mustard the pretzel roll becomes transcendent.
For those less accustomed to the more intense flavors of rye and spelt, there are more familiar (and French) options such as croissants, blueberry muffins, and quiches. But to order one of those would really be missing the point. Why not try a Bienenstich, a honey cake topped with sugar and almond, instead? The cranberry pecan loaves (pictured below) are, similarly, a rustic-sweet compromise.
Or perhaps a bratwurst or frankfurter on a split bun later in the day is more your style? Landbrot has called upon old-world meat maven Manfred Kallnischkies of Kallis German Butcher in Port Charlotte, Florida, to create all of the sausages being served.
“He’s not in Germany,” said Rothe “but he’s from Germany and we trust him,” adding that several of the recipes are proprietary. The sausages can be topped with a vinegary sauerkraut, mustard, or plum ketchup. For meat-free types, the broccoli rolls made with salty yeast dough should do the trick. The bakery/bars, as the name implies, aim to be destinations for morning, midday, and into the late night hours. Nightcrawlers will no doubt be lured by the four Höss beers on draft—the only ones from the label available in the city—from the Der HirschBrau brewery, including dunkel lager Holzar-Bier and doppelbock Doppel-Hirsch. Other hard-to-find German beers like Hopf, Reutberger, and Schönramer are featured by the bottle.
Once you’ve ordered something baked and something brewed, you’ll find a place amid Landbrot West’s 62 seats and admire the surrounding décor, which is not incidental. The doors and portions of the walls have been fitted with natural woods to recreate a herringbone style that designer Courtney Fikri noticed on barns in her research travels with Rothe and Hermann to Southern Germany.
“Even the typefaces that appear in the storefront were gleaned from traditional fonts from German foundries,” said Fikri, who hand-sourced everything from the tiles on the floor to the baking racks along with other antiques displayed around the café at various barn sales and flea markets she visited in Germany.
The best seat in the house in my opinion is the banquette on the balcony, upholstered from vintage flour sacks bearing the names and trades of blue-collar workers from back in the homeland.
“We took three trips and toured all of the old farm museums in Southern Germany,” Fikri said. “So we got to see how bread was actually baked back years ago and to see the same flour sacks we were picking up, being used. Then we just hunted around for the ones we wanted. After a while, the farmers got wind of us and started inviting us to see what they had.”
Sitting on the banquette, tucked away from street level, one can easily lose track of the hours watching the 30-foot-high glass dumbwaiter being raised and lowered with fresh baked goods from the kitchen down to the bar, and checking out the humorous photographs Fikri took in towns along the Swiss-German border.
But if you find it’s already closing time at the West Village location (1 a.m.), just hop across town to continue your revelry. The 32-seat sister café on the Lower East Side will stay open until 4 a.m. so you can enjoy one last pretzel roll as a late-night snack before heading home.
Landbrot is located at 137 Seventh Ave. S., nr. Charles St., and at 185 Orchard Street, nr. Houston St.