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Gravy Kind of Love

How often do you go out for German food? Probably not that frequently, considering there are only a handful of places in the entire Valley that serve it. I admit, I don't indulge in it that often, either. But not because it's too exotic. If anything, it's too close to...
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How often do you go out for German food?

Probably not that frequently, considering there are only a handful of places in the entire Valley that serve it. I admit, I don't indulge in it that often, either. But not because it's too exotic. If anything, it's too close to home for me — I was already sort of raised on the stuff.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, half the people I knew were of German descent. A couple of my grandparents spoke both English and Pennsylvania Dutch (a dialect of West Central German), and I have funny memories of Pop Pop Laudig blasting polka music in his pickup truck after a few beers at the American Legion.

It's been a few centuries since my ancestors came over from Deutschland, but their traditions have stuck. No surprise, much of the local comfort food in my small hometown had a German meat-and-potatoes spin, and even now, when I'm hungry for chicken and dumplings with gravy, or roast pork and sauerkraut, I don't wrack my brain trying to think of a restaurant that serves it — I just cook it myself.

But when it comes to straight-up traditional German food — say, a perfect Viennese-style wiener schnitzel, or homemade spaetzle — I'd rather order off a menu. Good thing I can head to the delightful new Black Forest Mill for fortifying stuff like that. Their sauerkraut alone is so tasty that I'll probably slack in the kitchen and go there the next time I get a craving.

After the German Corner, a longstanding Arcadia eatery, closed last October, Heinrich Stasiuk bought the place and spent six months renovating it. He'd moved to the U.S. seven years ago from Austria (where his father still owns two German restaurants), and worked as director of restaurants at Camelback Inn before opening his own business this May. Stasiuk says he named Black Forest Mill after the Black Forest region of Germany, where chef Stephan Murst is from, and that Black Forest- and Bavarian-style dishes are the house specialties.

Even before I took a look at the menu, I had a good feeling about Black Forest Mill — the vibe is fun. I'm sure that the menu of more than 25 German beers had something to do with that (I went with a frosty stein of Spaten Oktoberfest), but I also got a kick out of live oom-pah-pah music and, in the evenings, waitresses decked out in cute dirndl dresses.

Just around the corner from the entrance, there's a lively bar area decorated with framed soccer jerseys, while the centerpiece of the main dining room is an elevated dance floor, flanked by tables. If music's not your thing, curtained booths in the back room are much cozier. Warm wood paneling, pink and red checked tablecloths, and large photos of water cascading from an old country mill give rustic charm to the clean, uncluttered space.

I sampled a few appetizers, each one richer than the last, with the exception of gurken salat, a refreshing salad of cucumber slices and dill in a simple, tangy dressing. That turned out to be the perfect palate cleanser between bites of warm, soft baked brie, and golden potato pancakes served with apple sauce or sour cream. (I requested both.) While the brie didn't strike me as particularly German, it was still tasty, with two crisp, batter-dipped rounds of cheese and a side of sweet cranberry chutney. What appealed to me about the large, thin potato pancakes was their texture — they were slightly chewy inside, but lightly browned and crisp around the edges.

My dining companions and I also shared the baurnteller brotzeit, sort of a German antipasto platter heaped with slices of Black Forest ham, smoked ham, a couple pieces of landjaeger (spicy dried sausage that reminded me of salami), chunky liverwurst, Swiss cheese, and some hard-boiled eggs. Paired with fresh Austrian pumpernickel and Bavarian farmer's bread that came complimentary with our meal, it was a filling starter.

Little did I know how huge the entrees would be. (Still, I don't mind taking home leftovers and getting more mileage out of a good meal.) Wiener schnitzel and jaeger schnitzel each took up the better part of a huge plate. The former, a tender veal cutlet served with fries and lemon slices, had an impressive golden crust, while the latter, a sautéed pork cutlet, was slathered in thick, savory gravy studded with wild mushrooms. Wow, that sure hit the spot. The sautéed veggie mix that came with it was run of the mill, but a side of delicate, doughy spaetzle more than made up for it.

Spaetzle also made the gulasch a top-notch entree. Easily enough to feed two people, it was topped with chunks of wine-braised veal, pork, and beef tips in a thick, paprika-tinged stew. The side dish for that one was great, too: rotkraut, a fragrant, sweet-and-sour red cabbage dish that rivaled the sauerkraut.

Schweinebrauten, sliced pork loin with garlic and caraway, didn't blow me away; I still prefer my own roast pork. Here, it needed the beer-enhanced gravy for moistness. No complaints about the thick potato dumpling that came with it, though. Rheinischer sauerbraten, wine- and vinegar-marinated sirloin, wasn't bad, either; sides of red cabbage and spaetzle definitely added to its appeal.

Meanwhile, kasseler rippchen — a thick smoked pork chop — was satisfying in a simple, old-fashioned way, like a Sunday dinner at Grandma's. Same goes with the choucroute garni, with three kinds of German sausage, all made next door at the aptly named German Sausage Company. Both plates came with roasted potatoes and more of that good sauerkraut.

After generous plates of food and an enormous mug of beer, dessert-time was brutal for me. I still ache just thinking about it. But there's nothing wrong with a taste, right?

In a contest between classic Black Forest cake (chocolate cake with layers of whipped cream and cherries) and the "chocolate volcano" — honestly, as unoriginal as it was — I preferred the volcano. It was warm, with a molten dark chocolate center, while the cool Black Forest cake evoked the fridge. Fresh, flaky apple strudel with vanilla ice cream tasted the best, though.

Like most good German food, it reminded me of home.

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