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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Bring Out the Wurst

By B.A. Nilsson

Wolff’s Biergarten

895 Broadway, Albany, 427-2461. Serving 11 AM-2 AM Mon-Fri, 9 AM-2 AM Sat, 9 AM-midnight Sun. Cash only (ATM on premises).

Cuisine: German

Entrée price range: $7 (Homemade mac and cheese) to $13 (Schwabische Rindsrouladen)

Ambiance: Oktoberfest

Rotkraut. Gurkensalat. Kasseler Rippchen. And if that’s not enough, Schwabische Rindsrouladen: items far too absent from area menus, usually only found at full-bore German restaurants.

That’s pretty much what we have at Wolff’s Biergarten, although the emphasis seems to be more on beer and television. And fussball—owner Matt Baumgartner conceived the place as a German-style beer hall, complete with several screens offering soccer matches from around the world. It’s in the warehouse-sized space that housed the short-lived nightclub Noche, now done over to look like an outdoor garden, complete with picnic tables, hanging lights and phony trees.

Baumgartner already struck gold with Bombers Burrito Bar on Lark Street and, more recently, in Schenectady. When the Broadway space opened up, “I was looking for a concept that would make the best use of it,” he says. “One side of my family is German, and I’ve made several trips to that country and enjoyed the food and beer and the way it’s served, so it seemed like the right thing to try.”

Part of the equation also was a casual, friendly environment. “A place with no pressure,” he says. “It’s self-serve, so you get your food when you want and can just spend time with your friends.”

For lubrication, there’s an impressive beer selection that includes German, Czech and Belgian varieties on tap, including lagers, pilsners and several wheat and dark brews. They’re sold in half- or full-liter mugs—or a 10-ounce taste (at least, it’s a mere taste for me). The bottled selection ranges even further through the aforementioned countries, especially in its Belgian offerings. Order at the bar, and then sit there and enjoy your suds, if you like, while watching soccer on TV. Or find yourself a table, as I did, shuffling through the peanut shells to an available bench.

Heading the menu items is a wurst plate ($9) that gives you two sausages with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. Choose from a regular foursome: Bratwurst, Weisswurst, Knockwurst or a Frankfurter, and there’s also a wurst of the week, in this case a cheddar Bratwurst. (Too many years of high-school German class has me diligently capitalizing all Nouns, which I shall forthwith cease.)

You place your order at a counter halfway back where you’ll get enthusiastic suggestions as you consider the options. Being traditionalists, we went for the wurst plate with a thick bratwurst and its smoky cousin, a log of knockwurst. Among the specials when I visited was the aforementioned Kasseler Rippchen ($13), a preparation of smoked and brined pork chops, here served with red cabbage and homemade spaetzle. So that became entrée number two. A bowl of tomato bisque ($4), and we were set.

To call the presentation unpretentious is to favor it with formality. Stuff comes on plastic plates and/or chowhouse cardboard containers. The wurst plate featured its feature snuggled side by side between a mound of mashed and sauerkraut ditto, all of it pleasant and unremarkable. Similarly, the two pork chops perched atop a generous pile of noodles, potatoes on the side.

But I don’t want to underrate the work of chef Jeff Ruff. Good spaetzle is tricky to make, and the pork chops need a time-consuming preparation. Other menu items include currywurst—sausages served in curry sauce, one of those oddball assimilative dishes every country’s cuisine seems to sport ($10), fleischkase (a meatloaf of corned beef, bacon and onions, $9), zigeuner (goulash over spaetzle, $10), and, for the timid, sliders (a trio of little cheeseburgers with fries, $9) and homemade macaroni and cheese ($7). And Ruff courageously offers roasted (bacon-enhanced) Brussels sprouts ($5) as one of several sides.

We were pointed to the condiments array when we ordered—it’s at the back of the dining room—but neglected to arm ourselves with anything when we picked up our fare. This was noted when one of the staffers stopped by our table to check up on us. “You should try some gravy with the pork chops,” he said, adding, “and there’s mustard for the wursts.” Even before I could lumber out of my seat, he was back with a container of each.

Lunch specials include several sandwiches priced from $5 to $9, fillings including schnitzel (a pork cutlet, which is traditional), ham (as a fleischsalat), ham and swiss—and hot dogs. And a Reuben. Brunch is a fairly big deal, a Saturday- Sunday all-day event with many styles of pancakes in addition to waffles, wursts and more.

What’s ahead? “The World Cup is a very big deal for us,” says Baumgartner. “We’re looking into the best way to celebrate this—maybe with a tent and projection TV.”

With my carousing days far behind and a lamentable ignorance of sports, I rarely think to seek out a beer-and-TVs place for a meal. But the friendliness of Wolff’s definitely has won me over.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Speaking of Bombers, owner Matt Baumgartner notes that the Lark Street refurbishment is almost finished—the place will reopen Jan. 29. . . . What makes Greek night at Athos Restaurant (1814 Western Ave., Albany) different from any other night at this outpost of fine Hellenic dining? You get live Greek music, a dance demonstration and then the opportunity to get up and dance yourself when you’re not enjoying dinner, and/or the special meze plate. The next one takes place Saturday (Jan 23). Call 608-6400 or visit athosrestaurant.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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