Fifty Dollar Dinner

photo/Hannah Joyce McCain
photo/Hannah Joyce McCain

Schulte & Herr
349 Cumberland Ave., Portland

When Schulte & Herr opened on Cumberland Avenue five years ago, the odds seemed stacked against it. A small, family-owned restaurant serving German food without a liquor license in a dingy part of town looked like a losing bet. Instead, Schulte & Herr defied the skeptics, beat the odds and actually expanded, adding dinner service to its breakfast and lunch offerings.

Little candles were burning on every table in the tiny, homey dining room (reservations suggested) when my husband and I arrived for dinner last month. The menu is succinct, and changes with the seasons and the whims of chef Brian Davin, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Steffi. Most of the ingredients are locally sourced or prepared in-house. If your idea of German food is limited to fatty sausages, sour krauts and dense bricks of bread, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the fare at Schulte & Herr. It’s comforting and filling, but also bright and flavorful and elegant.

Case in point: the schweineschnitzel ($18), a tender pork loin pounded thin and breaded. The earthy brown gravy adds complexity — flavors of meaty mushroom and red wine — but doesn’t weigh the dish down. In a portion of accompanying gratin, the potatoes were thin and perfectly cooked, laced with cream. The dish is robust, autumnal and hearty, but not overly rich or heavy.

A starter of potato pancakes with house-cured salmon, horseradish sauce, capers and cornichons ($11) struck a similar balance. The fried pancakes were crisp and airy, and delicious with a dollop of sour cream (tangy, with just a hint of horseradish spice) and a shaving of the fatty fish. Schulte & Herr’s salmon is several steps above the stuff you can get at the supermarket. As someone who loves bagels with lox for breakfast, I was delighted with this sleeker and more vibrant variation on the theme.

Soup is the comfort food of autumn, and the fisch gulasch ($16) here is perfect on a chilly night. Its vivid, peppery tomato broth was laden with white fish and a mélange of vegetables, including tender potatoes and wilted kale.

The array of tempting sides ($4) includes German potato salad, sauerkraut, and roasted vegetables. We opted for the cucumber salad with dill and vinaigrette. This zippy little dish is topped with julienned radish and bursting with aromatic, fresh dill. If you’re opting for one of Schulte & Herr’s meatier entrées — a plate of bratwurst, perhaps, or the marinated beef roast — this salad would be a good counterweight.

Steffi, who handles the front of the house, stopped by our table to check in with us before we left. Born in Germany, her demeanor matches this eatery’s bright, warm and welcoming atmosphere. Schulte & Herr is here to stay.

— Hannah Joyce McCain

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