We are happily digging into our lunch of wursts and schnitzels and discussing the merits of sauerkraut vs. red cabbage when something initially disturbing happens.
We are sitting in the sparse dining room of the German Bistro, a family-run business open about a year on a low-traffic stretch of MacDill Avenue near the Air Force base. There are German flags, and our server, Nicholas Seidl, is wearing lederhosen. The patio-furniture decor gives the slightest hint of an Oktoberfest beer hall, if you have an active imagination.
But then the music comes over the speakers, and any illusion of being steps away from a stroll along the Rhine competes with the opening chords of the Bellamy Brothers' 1976 hit Let Your Love Flow. Conversation stops, and we look at each other with concern.
Then the singer plunges into the lyrics.
Sommerabend uber bluhendem Blatt
Schon seit Mittag stand ich am Strassenrand
Bei jedem Wagen, der voruber fuhr, hob ich den Daumen . . .
Laughter ensues. The proper atmosphere has returned.
Truth is, it's possible that even exposure to unfortunate hits of the '70s would not have taken away from the meal.
It's all quite hearty. By the time we put in our dinner order, Nicholas has already dropped off bread, cole slaw and potato salad - German, of course - at the table. That's not the only thing that's included in the price of dinner, but if we start talking about the free beer now, you might not read about the entrees.
There are a number of schnitzels - breaded, pan-fried cutlets of meat - available, mostly pork, but chicken, too. We're told the jagerschnitzel ($10 at lunch, $16 at dinner) is a crowd favorite. The pork is crisp and juicy, and the dish defined by a dark, earthy mushroom gravy on top. Gypsyschnitzel ($10, $16) is the same cutlet with a brighter gravy of tomato, peppers and onions.
There are two wursts on the menu, a knockwurst and a bratwurst. The knockwurst is a plump smoked beef sausage ($9, $14) and the brat is a pork sausage ($9, $14) that is pan fried, giving the light-colored sausage a dark, crisp skin. Want to try both sausages on one plate? It's not on the menu, but Nicholas, the son of owners Werner and Irena Seidl, has been known to make it happen.
The side dishes don't take a side stage. The potato dumpling is a dense mass of flavor that will remind favorably of Thanksgiving stuffing. The sauerkraut and the red cabbage decision really comes down to whether you're in a mood for tart or sweet. And when asked about whether there should be gravy on the spaetzle, the thick little free-form noodles from the country, the answer is yes.
Desserts include a strudel ($4.95) in which apple is the unmitigated star, and German chocolate cake ($4.95), which is a straight up dark chocolate cake. No pecans, no coconut. That's a U.S. invention.
All right, about the beer: It's included in the price of meal. The story is that the liquor license is held up for some reason and no license is necessary if it isn't being sold. There are a lot of things that could delay a liquor license, I guess, and including beer with dinner gets attention. Whatever, a bottle of St. Pauli Girl, lager or dark, will set you back less than a glass of iced tea.
Now, back to the song: It isn't a straight cover of the Bellamy Brothers. It is a tune called Ein Bett im Kornfeld by Jurgen Drews. Drews used the music and wrote lyrics about a hitchhiker who meets a girl on a bicycle. As might be evident from the title, a cornfield is involved. It's available on iTunes (99 cents).
Song lyrics according to magistrix.de. Jim Webster can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.
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5232 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 402-2920; germanbistro.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Details: AmEx, V, MC, Discover; beer included with dinner
Prices: Entrees $9 to $18, appetizers $4 to $9
Rating out of four stars: Food: *** Service: *** Atmosphere: **
Overall: ** 1/2