Monday, October 15, 2018
Dining

Want solid German(ish) food? Hit Prost Kitchen and Bar, Berlins Doener

TAMPA AND ST. PETERSBURG

I moved to Julich, Germany, when I was 12 and had a Dorothy Hamill haircut. It was still West Germany then, before any walls had been pulverized to make it just Germany. Quickly, I learned a couple of things. First, that West Germany was way ahead of the curve on chocolate, but they had a perplexing enthusiasm for marzipan. In the candy store there was a whole aisle filled with little lifelike fruits, vegetables and animals molded out of colored almond paste. More alarming was a national affection for the knoedel, a dumpling about the size of a fast-pitch softball that functions in German food as a medium, soaking up the various brown gravies that occur with regularity in this cuisine.

By the end of the year my German was pretty darn good and my love of the food, even the marzipan, was cemented. Problem is, its a cuisine that hasnt had a renaissance in this country for a while. Here in Florida, the climate can make all that spaetzle and sausage and sauerbraten and schnitzel seem a little, well, heavy. There are plenty of Tampa Bay German restaurants that have settled into a groove, some on the strength of beer-fueled good times (Mr. Dunderbaks, Hofbrauhaus) and some for their renditions of classic dishes (Largo has more than its share with German Bistro 2 and the German Deli & Jaegerstuble).

In the past couple months, two more have been added to our local lineup, each bringing something entirely different to the table. Berlins Doener, in what was formerly Brewburger in St. Petersburg, focuses on what amounts to German-Turkish fusion food: the doener kebab. And Prost Kitchen + Bar in New Tampa offers a looser idiom, with classic German dishes served alongside tacos, wings and a crowd of American-ish brunch pleasers (this has emerged as a robust destination for USF students and New Tampa folks on the weekend).

Berlins Doener (why is there an "e" in Doener? When you eschew an umlaut, those two little dots over a vowel in many German words, the vowel gets an "e" tacked on to make a long vowel sound) is the brainchild of Susan and Thomas Boell, the latter until recently the general manager at Hofbrauhaus in St. Petersburg. They are offering a fairly compact menu of dishes that are largely portable (lending themselves as to-go orders, but the long, narrow dining room is perfectly pleasant, too). First question is: What is a doener kebab?

Essentially, gyros, shawarma and doener are the same thing, doener from the Turkish word for "spin," gyro a Greek version and shawarma the Arabic word for what is rotating meat on a vertical rotisserie that is shaved off then tucked into a sandwich or salad. For any of them, a mix of beef, veal, chicken and pork is ground, spiced and formed, or else the meat is sliced thin and carefully layered with spices. The German-style doener was invented by a Turkish immigrant named Kadir Nurman in the 1970s, and it quickly became the most popular street food in the country. Germans eat 720 million doener kebabs a year, with 15,000 stores in the country selling them.

At Berlins Doener, a tender, bouncy, flavorful beef-lamb mix is shaved very thin and takes center stage in a packed pita sandwich (lots of marinated cabbage, tomato, onion, cuke and a drizzle of tzatziki; $8), or in a tight wrap (a thinner lavash, basically the same mix of veggies; $8), or on a platter with thin, greaseless fries ($7) and a choice of sauces (theres a hot and spicy curry sauce thats worth attention). I made sure to try the wurst platter with bratwurst, knockwurst and Austrian cheese sausage (pork and beef, good smokiness, a little Emmenthaler funk), paired with tangy kraut and a scoop of very good German potato salad ($14). The house falafel are also quite good, crisp and hearty, offered as a veggie sandwich ($7) or salad ($8).

The restaurant offers sodas, a short list of beers and a fair number of affordable wines (although the young service staff is a bit ill at ease in serving or describing these), and an apple strudel ($7) that is clearly house-made, a classic of buttery pastry and still tooth-resistant cinnamony apples.

Now, Prost, which is German for "cheers," is a more complicated concept to unpack. Owner Cody Jay, from the Destin area, grew up with a German au pair, something that cemented his love of this cuisine. He went to the University of South Florida for a couple of years then transferred to Florida State, returning after graduation to open the Study, a student-oriented bar on Fletcher Avenue not far from USF. His vision for this second concept was something approaching a European gastropub but with a heavy emphasis on sausage boards and rib-stickers like jaegerschnitzel.

Our first visit was on a Tuesday night when Taco Tuesday was in full swing, with two-for-one margaritas flying out of the bar.

Wait, what?

We rolled with it, eventually nabbing one of the long communal butcher-block high-top tables and adopting a shared-plate approach. We all ripped into a gargantuan, salt-studded Bavarian pretzel, some of us swiping it through grainy mustard and some through a beer cheese sauce ($11), both good. Breaded and fried avocado wedges with a flurry of Parmesan and a dipper of ranch were pleasant enough but didnt rise to notable ($8.50). We did, however, make short work of a paleo-friendly crock of roasted Brussels sprouts with kielbasa rounds and a bit of pickled red onion as a high note ($9.50), as well as a guilty pleasure passel of truffle-oil steak fries (the accompanying "horseradish aioli" read like a sweetened mayonnaise, not a slam dunk; $9).

Beyond a laudable lineup of regional craft and German import beers, Prosts strong suit seems to be a traditional sausage board with caraway-inflected kraut ($16), a breaded pork schnitzel ladled with a savory beef-broth-forward mushroom gravy, the dish served with little fluffs of eggy spaetzle and lengths of broccolini with a faint vanilla flavor I couldnt quite figure out (odd, but not bad; $14.50); and a tender beer-braised short rib paired with sweet-tart braised red cabbage and a gravy-soaking polenta cake ($16.50).

Not that far from Dunderbaks, and in a space that has cycled through concepts from barbecue to Beef O Bradys, Prost seems to have hit on a formula that is appealingly German-ish. With bottomless mimosas for $8 on the weekends, no one seems to be sticklers for verisimilitude.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.

     
       
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