The Black Forest is more than a German restaurant (and the best one in the metro), it’s a cultural — or, make that counter-cultural — institution. For more than 40 years on Eat Street — long before there was an Eat Street — it’s been serving goulash and gemütlichkeit in equally heaping portions to art students from MCAD, its graying alums (now accountants) and other idealists gathered to quote Zen, plot political movements, or simply practice their German with owner Erich Christ, a butcher from the Old Country, and his wife, JoAnne.
Straight from Germany’s Black Forest itself, it’s cloaked in murals of pine-fringed Bavarian lakes and castles — painted, one might guess, in lieu of payment for a starving artist’s bar tab. They accent the dark wood and well-worn plank flooring that hosts a colony of cozy tables straight from the operetta-land of “The Student Prince,” complete with faux-stained glass, coats of arms and swags of dirndl-ready fabric. (As antidote to the uber-oom-pah, there’s also the cheeky, now legendary, life-sized photo of the ladies of the DAR, to which louder and louder toasts are raised as the night wears on and the beer gets stronger.) And, of course, there’s that legendary vine-covered patio, favored by one and all as soon as the ice breaks on the Mississippi.
Christ, the former butcher, cuts his meat in portions judged mammoth even by Minnesota standards. Bulk up on dishes like his justly famous house-made bratwurst or meatballs big as grapefruit. Same goes for the sauerbraten, rouladen and schnitzels. But the dish that puts even these to shame is the giant pork shank, cleaved, one suspects, from some brontosaurean breed of hog. Fortunately, the server does all the heavy lifting; all you’re called upon to manage is to pull the luscious, juicy, long-simmered meat apart with the mere touch of a fork. Well, one other requirement: Wash it down with the help of a stein still overflowing from the tap.
The shank is served with a full-bodied bread roll, far more rewarding to sink your teeth into than a hoity-toity croissant from across the border. Also on the platter rises a mound of mashed potatoes — unless you beg, as I always do, for a pyramid of spaetzle in its stead — those curly, little noodle-dumplings that soak up the delicious gravy so adeptly.
Friends fancying the bratwurst found their plates piled with hot, sweet German potato salad in the traditional bacon-vinegar dressing, along with forests of sauerkraut (not very sour either) to assure they wouldn’t perish from hunger on the drive home.
Another wise way to forestall that tragedy is to order dessert, the most notable of which is the signature Black Forest cherry torte — a many-layered indulgence made even wickeder by thick slatherings of buttercream. Or the slimmer, but no less seductive, Sacher torte — the flourless cake born in Vienna. Or the iconic apple strudel. Or — what the heck? — another beer.