Location: 1 East 26th Street, Minneapolis MN 55404
Hours: Everyday from 10:30 AM until Midnight (kitchen closes at 10 pm)
When friends say "Where should we meet?" and I suggest The Black Forest Inn, it isn't entirely because it's within walking (or stumbling) distance of my Uptown apartment. It's also because I want them to experience this dark-wooded restaurant on my watch; I want to see the looks on their faces when they step off the busy corner of Nicollet and 26th and into the this thick, embracing richness, like someone's German grandmother's kitchen from another century. And as their eyes and noses adjust to this other atmosphere, they begin to hear the low, old music that seems to come from nowhere. Or everywhere. Perhaps it falls from the painted ceiling, perhaps its piped from the wall sconces, perhaps it just lives in all the supposedly inanimate objects as a Hotel Californian haunted sense that envelops every visitor separately… (except, you know, you can leave. You just might not want to).
Ultimately, the reason for going to a restaurant is to eat. And if you don't like hearty German fare, don't come here. Unless you just come to drink, which is not a bad deal either, especially considering the place began as a bar almost fifty years ago. But really, you should eat. And you should start with an appetizer. Let's talk about balls. Ham and sauerkraut balls, specifically. Tasty fried fistfuls of chopped ham and 'kraut and celery seed and… magic. Served with a side of stoneground mustard on a bed of lettuce. They are crunchy and delicate and intensely flavorful. "I don't really like sauerkraut," you say. JUST TRY THEM, friendo. If they don't change your mind, I'll eat the rest of them and reimburse you.
If you want to continue with balls, you can't go wrong with the Monday through Thursday dinner special of Königsberber Klops. When your server asks if you want one or two meatballs, I'll warn you, they are massive. And if you've already eaten an appetizer and you want to save room for some famous chocolate torte, you really only need one. Besides, that one ball is served over a pile of house-made spaetzle, dripping with white caper sauce, a side of red cabbage, and house-made rolls (or brötchen).
If it's not Monday through Thursday, or you're just done with balls, might I suggest every other thing on the menu. Truly. Bring as many people as you can, all order something different, and share. If you are few, here are my favorites:
Bratwurst dinner— If you ask a server to suggest something they will tell you this is the most popular. And with cause. A filling selection of house-made finest: bratwurst, German potato salad, sauerkraut, rye bread, and a good sized heap of that stellar mustard.
The Reuben— You're a grownup. If you want to have a sandwich for dinner you go right ahead. And make it a good one. Tender, slow cooked corned beef, perfect rye bread, handmade Thousand Island dressing, side of fries. You know you want that!
Alsation Sauerkraut Casserole— Like a trough of all good things you need to eat on a cold, cold night. Smoked sausage chunks, sauerkraut, roasted potatoes, and onions all stirred into an almost-mash. If you eat the whole thing, you may have to take a nap.
Braised Pork Shank— Just say that out loud and tell me you don't drool. Slow roasted deliciousness served with a classic side of mashed potatoes and brown gravy.
Beef Rouladen— ONLY ON SATURDAYS, be warned. Completely splendid meat roll up with pickled veggies and bacon inside. If that's not enough, it's covered in brown gravy, served with spaetzle and red cabbage. Maybe you order two. Maybe one goes home with you.
Pineapple Toast— ONLY ON LUNCH MENU. It has a weird name. But trust me. There is nothing less than fantastic about a salty/sweet open faced ham and pineapple sandwich smothered in melted cheddar.
But you don't go to a restaurant just to eat. If you're like me, part of you is still a child and "going out to eat" is a mighty treat, and you want to enjoy the whole experience. Since I like lists, here's another one, containing in no particular order several things that please me immensely about this establishment:
- ART. Beautiful, real (and infamous) art inside and out! The list is so stupendously long, they actually have separate web pages on their site for the murals, glasswork, sculpture, poetry, drawings, metalwork, photography, taxidermy, masonry, etc. The most well known piece is the Avedon photograph that sports a bullet hole, and a story (http://www.blackforestinnmpls.com/pgs/art.php). Once you get your fill of exploring the nooks and crannies for hidden treasures, make sure you check out the entire exterior. Even the alley boasts one of the most gorgeous mosaics I've ever seen.
- BEER. Of course. Tall and German. Short and local. Totally affordable. Yeah, there's some wine too. But I'll be honest and tell you I've only had beer here. It just seems... wrong to order anything else. I'm partial to the weissbier on tap. Not sure what you want? Get a sampler of five choices in 3oz. glasses for just $7.00.
- MENU. Make that "menus." They have one for the kiddos, one for lunch (with smaller portions and the prices to go with them), and one for dinner. I appreciate the distinction.
- LOCAL. They have a real commitment to real food. In fact, seeing the Hope Creamery truck parked outside after I first moved to this neighborhood was my first indicator that I needed to try this place. They also use Ferndale Market turkeys, Fischer Farms pork, Hoppin' Fresh Farm rabbits, and several other conscientious local growers.
- IN-HOUSE. In case I didn't use the phrase "in-house" enough, let me reiterate: they make their own sausage, bread, pastries, cakes, mustard, dressing, spaetzle... And you can taste the difference.
- CASH. The most expensive entree is $23.50. Everything else hovers around $13-$15, specials and smaller plates are even less. Damn. Those are poet prices, bitches! If I can afford to be a regular here, so can you.
- OLD. The same family has been running this place since opening day in 1965. They know what they're doing. And they're doing it right.
- BEER GARDEN. I didn't bury the lead. I just didn't want to taunt you in winter. But remember this when warmer weather comes. There's a fountain! And pretty lights. And prettier plants. You will completely forget there's a busy street on the other side of the shrubbery.
- BANQUET HALL. Or tea room. Or mirage of an outbuilding because it really is on the other side of the beer garden, a separate creature. But once you're in there (as I was recently for a fine contemporary production of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"— yeah, there's theatre too!) you'll see by continuity of richly painted wall panels that you are indeed still inside the BFI vortex.
- NEIGHBORLY. No, again, not just because I can crawl home. They are seriously involved and invested in this neighborhood. More than participate, they've helped create the whole "Eat Street" identity that makes this stretch of Nicollet a destination for food lovers of all kinds.
WI-FI. Free.99, my favorite price. Let the hipsters of Uptown flock to the 800 coffee shops. I bring my lap top to the bar. I order a tall, tall franziskaner, and I work. Hell, I'm doing it right now, kids!
- PARKING. There's a lot. It's kinda around the corner, a couple doors south on Nicollet. But it's better than street parking. And it allows you walk past (or through) one of the neighborhood's newest gems, Glamdoll Donut.
Lest you think I'm a pushover, I do have some criticism; the sauerkraut is too sweet. Rumor has it there is Sprite in there. I wouldn't normally validate rumor with print, but I heard it from two separate servers. And they should know. Whatever. You might like its more Bavarian taste and texture. I'm a bigger fan of seriously salty, still kinda crunchy 'kraut. And there are MANY other things at the BFI that I will happily eat instead. More balls please!