Restaurant Review: Zum Schneider

Opening a Zum Schneider outpost in Montauk may be, according to Sylvester Schneider, the stupidest thing he’s ever done – who wants to bring their work with them on vacation? But considering this lament was delivered by the restaurateur whilst imbibing at the bar surrounded by friends, we don’t feel so bad for him.

The idea of an authentic Bavarian restaurant in our sleepy fishing village-slash-hipster haven had raised a few eyebrows since rumors of Zum Scheider’s arrival began to surface this spring. At first, we thought it might be another ridiculous stunt crafted by a billionaire hotelier or a Brooklynite trendsetter. Our collective local conscience breathed a heaving sigh of relief when we realized that no, it’s just Sylvester Schneider, the soccer-playing Oompa band-leader who is as truly German as the food he serves.

There is plenty of beer at Zum Schnieder, which translates roughly as “at Schneider’s,” and this has been the focus of most of my previous visits. Schneider is so hooked on the authenticity angle, in fact, that any and all alcohol imbibed – or food for that matter – is German in origin. I love a good German beer, particularly when it’s served in an oversized mug almost too heavy to hold, or in a flight alongside a few other beery friends. Needless to say this place had captured my heart even before I made friends with some of the staff on a late night bar crawl earlier this season.

The beer hall atmosphere at Schneider’s is a refreshingly welcome delight – Tilefish and other local favorites grace the specials chalkboard with decidedly German flare, but the main menu is strictly Bavarian.

According to our lovely server Anat, the chef, Goesta Krings, has been griping that red cabbage is not yet in season, and he can’t understand why so many uninformed  Americans keep on ordering it with their sauerbraten. Anat and her compatriots are fluent in German – she hails from Berlin – and they carry around these really neat leather holsters to make change from, in lieu of aprons, which is apparently also a “very German thing to do.”

Some of the things I did in college make recalling my single semester of beginning German a bit hazy for me, so I was delighted to bring along Stacy Dermont’s husband Dan for this review. His parents live in Germany and he has been itching for a good bit of Bavarian fare.

Dan was super excited to order the haxn, a gigantic pork shank served with the skin on and presented with a rather large knife embedded in the meat to the hilt. It reminded me of a Montauk beach barbecue, without the trouble of ordering and roasting a whole pig, and while it takes a while to cook I highly recommend it.

The haxn was served alongside a curious looking bread-stuffed dumpling that was rather spongy in texture. My bartender friend, Tony, assured us that “even in Germany, this is something no one should have to eat.” We ate it anyway, chalking it up to experience, and survived. Still, I wonder if its presence on the plate was to make the haxn more outstanding in contrast.

I was veering toward ordering sauerbraten but keeping it in mind that it’s not Oktoberfest yet, I settled on a trio of German sausages over a bed of Sauerkraut, a perfect accompaniment to my third beer course, the vitamin enriched unfiltered Traunsteiner Zwickel, one of Schneider’s exclusive brews. Dan’s son, Bo, ordered the Kasespastzle, an enormous plate of spatzle garnished with cheese, caramelized onions and bacon, and it hit the mark with all three of us.

JoAnne Starkey made a few off comments about the “crunchy” salad in her New York Times Review of Schneider’s, which I attributed to the presence of caraway seeds and enjoyed immensely. Another favorite was the light, crispy potato pancake served with applesauce, which Anat insisted we try.

By this time we were all extraordinarily full, and some of us were a little drunk, but we managed to squeeze in one of the house specialty desserts, the Kaiserschmarrn. These were delicious bite-sized eggy pancakes, doused in powdered sugar and served with a generous helping of applesauce. It’s something like a funnel cake, but better.

One of the greatest things about dining at Zum Schnieder was seeing that some of the Montauk regulars – the curious and occasionally grumpy local people who I spend the majority of my winters waiting on – seemed to have made a home there. Zum Schnieder is authentically Montauk without trying to be Montauk, as so many of these new places are prone to do. The lesson learned here is to just be yourself, bring along a lot of beer, and Montauk will welcome you with open arms.

4 South Elmwood Ave., Montauk. 631-238-5963, zumschneider.com/MTK.htm.

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