POLKA SPOTS

Still, despite the inconsistencies here and there, German Corner is a strong addition to Deutschland dining in Phoenix. It gets better each time I visit. Right now the crowd here is mostly older folks and out-of-state visitors. In fact, one night we sit near a table of German tourists who videotape their meal when it is brought! But once the service snags are straightened out, German Corner might even become a place you and I would visit for an easygoing, moderately priced dinner or a brat and a brew.

If German Corner, Old Heidelberg Bakery and German Sausage Company form east Phoenix's mini-Deutschland, Zur Kate is part of east Mesa's German empire. This little restaurant and bar--the name means "smokehouse"--is located in the same Main Street plaza harboring Bavarian Point, the Valley's best German restaurant.

Zur Kate isn't as fancy as its critically acclaimed neighbor. This is a simple little place for hearty simple food. As at German Corner, Zur Kate carries German beer on draught, but you won't find imported nonalcoholic beer here. No, our waiter looks at us as if we're crazy when we ask him if he has any.

The cozy atmosphere here features dark wood, framed needlepoint and German paraphernalia such as flags, Alpine walking sticks and souvenir china plates. The booths are constructed of pea-green vinyl and the fading cloths that cover the tables pick up that green in an ornate, magenta-and-pink-flowered pattern. There's a broken-in feeling to the ambiance at Zur Kate that sometimes verges on worn out. You could say the same thing about the food. Home-style and unthreatening, it seems downright tired at times. For instance, the salad bar features weary, pink-edged iceberg lettuce, unappealing marinated salads and questionable salad dressings I wouldn't eat on a dare. The dense dark bread we're served is inedible. Acquired taste or simply stale? You make the call.

When our entrees arrive--we are having a late Saturday lunch--we have more questions. That yellow-tinged, mediocre spaetzle--made from scratch or from a package? My dining accomplice asks me if I think his leberkase (fine-ground Bavarian meat loaf) tastes like Spam. I don't know, I tell him; I've assiduously avoided Spam my entire life. As for my coarse-ground beef and pork bratwurst, it's good, but it would taste a whole lot better with some good Bavarian mustard instead of the yellow, watery, French's-style substance we're given. (Hey, I grew up in Rochester, New York. I've eaten enough French's mustard to last me a lifetime. It's made there.)

Basically, I'm not thrilled with anything I try at Zur Kate. This is one of those meals I long to forget as soon as it's over. The service here is adequate, but then, we're the only ones in the restaurant.

The moral of this eating episode is: If you make the long drive out to Bavarian Point and it's already full, give them your name and tell them you'll wait. Go have a beer at Zur Kate, but save your appetite for the food next door. German Corner Restaurant & Bar, 4900 East Indian School, Phoenix, 840-7838. Hours: 4 to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; noon to 9 p.m., Saturday; 4 to 8 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday.

Zur Kate, 4815 East Main, Mesa, 830-4244. Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday through November 18, then closed Sunday. german corner

You don't have to worry about leaving this restaurant hungry. It's literally impossible.

The grilled white bratwurst is everything it should be, and thankfully served with decent mustard.

German Corner is a strong addition to Deutschland dining in Phoenix. It gets better each time I visit. zur kate

I'm not thrilled with anything I try at Zur Kate. This is one of those meals I long to forget as soon as it's over.

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