Cafe Reviews

Ethnic Plate Cleansing

Haus Murphy's, 5819 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale, 939-2480. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the past 20 years, Americans have been wrestling with their principles: how to balance a strong commitment to ethnic diversity with an equally strong belief in rewarding people according to their individual merits.

It's a particularly thorny question in higher education. Some folks believe that universities ought to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the nation. They push for special admissions for underrepresented groups, at the expense of others with higher grades and test scores.

Other folks demand strictly merit-based admission policies, even when those policies result in a student body that is skewed overwhelmingly toward white and wealthy.

Fortunately, it's not nearly so difficult reconciling the two principles when it comes to restaurants. I believe you can't have too much ethnic-food diversity. At the same time, every restaurant must be judged on its own culinary merits.

Two new places, Haus Murphy's and Pasand, are broadening our ethnic options. You can count the number of German kitchens in town on two hands, and still have enough fingers free to put in a bowling ball. Moreover, as far as I'm aware, Haus Murphy's is the only Deutschland dining spot in the northwest Valley. Out in Tempe, meanwhile, Pasand is introducing locals to the mysteries of idli, sambar and dosa, staples of southern Indian cuisine.

Ethnic-food fans will be pleased to learn that neither restaurant needs an affirmative-action boost: Haus Murphy's and Pasand are sound enough to compete on their own merits.

Haus Murphy's has as much charm per square foot as any place in town. The homey congeniality--Germans call it Gemutlichkeit--is so thick that it can make you woozy. Set in the heart of the city's antiques district, the restaurant occupies a cozy storefront in Glendale's oldest commercial building, built in 1895. Inside is a striking soda fountain, which was used in the set of the movie Murphy's Romance before being auctioned off to Haus Murphy's proprietors. At first, with the soda fountain as the centerpiece, they ran their shop as an ice cream parlor. But last year, in an inspired move, they metamorphosed into a German restaurant.

Vintage photos of old-time Glendale, courtesy of the local historical society, occupy almost every inch of wall space. The television in the corner offers nonstop German music programming, hosted by the German version of Lawrence Welk surrounded by a bevy of perky, golden-haired Rhinemaidens. You'll hear lots of bubbly polka tunes, as well as occasional Tyrolean yodeling yodeled by guys wearing lederhosen and hats that look like ADOT traffic cones. On weekend evenings, Haus Murphy's gives the television a rest, cheering up customers with a live accordionist.

Everything's neat and orderly. Tables are spiffily set with linen and brightened with fresh flowers. And out back there's a delightful shaded biergarten, perfect for spring evenings.

Happily, the food and prices (entrees top out at $13.95) are just as beguiling as the setting. There's no appetizer list, but you won't miss it, since meals come with soup or salad. You can't go wrong with either. On one occasion, the broth was a lovely cream of leek, zipped up with bits of fragrant smoked ham. (In fact, just about everything here except the apple strudel is zipped up with smoked ham. You won't hear me complaining.) Another evening brought a robust bean soup. The salad is nicely crafted, a mix of cucumber, greens, carrot and red cabbage dressed with a sweet and pungent vinaigrette. And a basket of fresh, thin-sliced pumpernickel provides additional nourishment.

Main dishes will have you loosening your belts and licking your lips, two of my favorite mealtime activities. Schnitzel is a specialty, and one taste of the fabulous paprika schnitzel will show you why. It's a big, tender pork cutlet, breaded and sauteed in butter and coated with a wunderbar paprika sauce that perfectly balances flavor and bite. The meat is teamed with crispy chunks of fried potato and green beans, each embellished with onions and ham. What's not to like in this hearty platter? Prager schnitzel is also deftly done, topped with scrambled eggs and ham.

Sauerbraten, sweet and sour marinated beef, smells like Bavaria. It comes with tart red cabbage and two large potato dumplings. Like just about everything here, this is not a platter for the fainthearted.

That's especially true of the kassler kotelett. You get two heavily smoked, steamed pork chops, tender and tasty, heaped with homemade sauerkraut and fried potatoes. You'll also require some lebensraum after downing the rindergulasch, a lusty beef stew accompanied by parsleyed potatoes, cinnamon-tinged red cabbage and a mound of mushrooms. Leberkase, a sliced pork and veal loaf, is marginally less filling, but doesn't skimp on taste. It's topped with a fried egg, and comes with first-rate German potato salad, smoky and tart. For an extra thrill, order a side of spatzle, and ask the kitchen to pour on some paprika sauce.

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Howard Seftel