When somebody says "German food," you think sauerbraten, spaetzle and a nice Black Forest cake, true? And the phrase "German health food" would simply mean half-portions of strudel and dumplings and schnitzel, right? Not so fast, mein schatzi.
12:35 The doors of Cafe Einstein open up to a long, clean, well-lighted and comfortable dining area and counter that hasn't nearly shed its brand-new sheen. The cafe's two owners greeted us as we entered the shop at 1705 Eastern Avenue in Fells Point. We were asked if we spoke German. Alas, no. If you do, here's a place to exercise it.
We didn't order the first dish brought to our table: A cherry tomato and cucumber with a creamy, chives-y dip. A nice gesture — something to nosh on while we contemplated the compact menu. Our server made a point of describing the cafe's menu as healthy German food. The simple but compelling veggie amuse-bouche was her exhibit A, and foreshadowed not only the rest of our meal, but the cafe itself.
Then we picked up the menu and noticed it begins with pancakes. Talk about Gemütlichkeit! But wait — there's a choice: You can go sweet, with accompaniments like Nutella, banana, marmalade and vanilla ice cream with honey and nuts; or you can opt for savory. And that's where the German "sushi" comes in. We ordered it because how can you not check out German sushi? Made with pancakes. C'mon.
Cafe Einstein also offers what it calls German Specialty Plates: Curry wurst, essentially high-end frankfurters cut up and served with a curry condiment; a three-cheese plate; and a wurst and cheese plate — each served with fresh bread and fruit.
12:40 We ordered the curry wurst at $8.95, the wurst and cheese plate $9.50, and the German sushi with ham and brie for $9.50.
The cafe lists 8 salads, from potato to beet to Caesar, each for $9.50; but you can order a mix of the salads for a sampling of tastes in one order.
1:00 Our entrees came in sensible portions, arranged to fill the plates. The presentation scheme used white space, garnish and color to good effect. There were nine or 10 pieces of sushi arrayed on a plate that included dollops of potato, beet, cabbage and carrot salads. The pancake could be mistaken for a crepe.
A larger portion of the German-style potato salad accompanied the curry wurst. The spices in the dark red sauce brought the veal-tender frank to life.
The wurst and cheese plate comes off as something of a deconstructed sandwich. You have two small loaves of bread, a few slices of the frankfurter, a few of salami and the cheeses: brie, a velvety Stilton-esque blue and a Muenster. We tried meat and bread, cheese and bread, meat and cheese and bread — a fine way to savor every ingredient. Pickles, olives and grapes rounded out the plate.
Novelty isn't the sushi's only blandishment. This could become the cafe's signature dish. It starts with a thin pancake, which is layered with melted brie, warm ham and cooked spinach, rolled up and cut into sushi-like disks. Sure, it's more like a wrap than a sushi, the but point is not lost: German cuisine can be light and fun and still find ways to celebrate protein and carbs.
1:22 Finished, we walk slowly past the dessert display, which also happens to be the first visual sample of the cafe's wares as you enter. Further experimentation is needed to determine if the desserts can also be classified as health food. But it shouldn't surprise us if they can. Importantly, while Cafe Einstein may embrace a lighter fare and revel in simplicity, it refuses to give ground on quality. This is good German fare, rich with flavor, and doled out with an eye to balance. It helps that they don't serve giant steins of ale.
Based on our single visit, nobody knows about this place yet. Open just shy of two weeks, it had the feeling of a well-appointed house waiting to be made a home by a big family. We felt doted over and important. It'll be interesting to see if that still applies when word gets out and the place gets busy.
• Have you been to Cafe Einstein in Fells Point? Write your own review.
Where: 1705 Eastern Ave.
Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Lunch entrées: $6.50-$9.50
[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or Uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]
Dining time: 47 minutes