LARGO — Sometimes I think German cuisine suffers unduly from too many letters. You're in the mood for hearty sausage and such, but then you have to contend with words like, say, schwarzwalderkirschtortenlieferantenhut. It's really a word. It means "the hat of the black forest cake delivery person." Whether it's a holsteinerschnitzel or a gewurztraminer, this stuff is just intimidating to say. That's where Irena Seidl comes in.
She and then-husband Werner moved to Florida from the Munich area in 2008. They opened a small bistro on S MacDill Avenue in Tampa, not too far from all those MacDill Air Force Base folks, many who have been stationed in Germany. Two months ago, Irena and partner Lee Hoxie opened German Bistro 2 at the site of Del's Cheesesteaks. It's been a major transformation, with new sconces, paint in a warm orange-red-cream palette, and ficus and trellising greenery. But what really anchors the Teutonic transformation is the soundtrack of oom-pah and Bavarian polka music and Seidl's spirit in the dining room.
For newbies she'll explain what spaetzle is (you have to get it: soft, irregular nubbins of buttery handmade egg noodles that were made to accommodate luscious brown gravy), and if you speak a little German, she'll gently correct your conjugation or those pesky gendered articles.
She's a warm and funny presence in the dining room, but it turns out she's the major force in the kitchen as well. The recipes are hers in the short, one-page menu of German classics. For instance, there's no need for a schwarzwalderkirschtortenlieferantenhut because Seidl makes her own black forest cake, a lushly homemade deep-chocolate confection studded with dark cherries and accented with whipped cream. It's a great cake. Equally good were one night's starter of bacony potato soup ($3.95) and the little bowl of vinegar-zinged potato salad that comes gratis at a meal's start with sliced bread and butter.
Actually, there's quite a bit that's free at the German Bistro: With no liquor license yet, they give complimentary St. Pauli Girl beers or glasses of wine (you can also bring your own with no corkage fee), and sides accompanying entrees are "unlimited." In the case of the sweet red cabbage, the more piquant sauerkraut and the heavenly spaetzle, unlimited can be a mixed blessing.
This is a sturdy cuisine, with thinly pounded, breaded pork schnitzel the anchor of the menu. It is offered in five preparations, from the traditional garnished only with a fat lemon wedge ($14.95) to a jaegerschnitzel topped with hearty, mushroom gravy ($15.95) to another topped with stewed bell peppers, onions and tomato ($15.95). On one visit my schnitzel seemed a little over-schnitzeled, the frying rendering it a wee tough. But on another night it was schnitzel-topia, the crisp edge giving way to moist pork scallopini.
Not surprising, wurst make up another hunk of the menu, with classic grilled bratwurst, pale and plump knackwurst and a currywurst (all $13.95), that cultish Berlin street food topped with a curried tomato sauce. All the sausages, with their snappy golden brown casings, seemed authentic and fairly priced, suited to a side of simple mashed potato and a scoop of tangy kraut.
And after the kraut? The strudel ($4.95), the German Bistro's version a generous portion of flaky pastry, still-firm apple and gentle cinnamon sweetness.
The place has only 12 tables, maybe 25 seats, with Seidl presiding over the room like a mother hen. You will eat heartily, you will be entertained and questioned, and the next time you come in, you will be family.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow her on Twitter, @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.