Now a neighborhood institution, the Black Forest Inn started as a young German immigrant’s plan to make a million dollars running the best restaurant in town.
Erich Christ was only 25 when he started the business in 1965 with his brother, Gerhard. Christ had trained in Germany as a butcher and cook before moving to the U.S., where he hoped to cash in on his talents.
Getting rich quick didn’t play out as planned, but what started as little more than a bar with a tiny kitchen evolved over many years into the neighborhood staple the German restaurant is today. Now 70, Christ is content with his restaurant’s place in the community and is still every part the butcher. Legs of veal, sides of beef, whole chickens — it all goes through Christ before it’s cooked and served.
“You know, over 45 years, he’s gotten really, really good at that,” said daughter Erica Christ, who helps run the restaurant with her mother and three siblings.
It’s not a family business by design, Erica Christ said. It just sort of ended up that way.
“Past a certain point, you sort of tacitly understood that once my dad didn’t want to do it anymore, he’d be almost impossible to replace, so either the business ends then or it has to transform in some way that we need to all figure out together,” she said.
While some businesses have reported 30 percent or greater losses this year because of the economy, Black Forest has only dipped about 5 percent. Erica said the restaurant’s community support and strong reputation as a destination for people throughout the metro and beyond has much to do with that.
It’s also the only restaurant on Eat Street to specialize in purely German cuisine, such as veal kidneys, wiener schnitzel and the ever-popular bratwurst. The Black Forest offers a variety of German wine and beer, too.
The restaurant recently started offering smaller portions during lunch.
Black Forest Inn basics
Price range: $6–$24
Hours: 10 a.m.–midnight Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–midnight Saturday and Sunday
Address: 1 E. 26th St.
If there’s one thing to try at the Black Forest above all else, it’s the bratwurst, which has been a menu staple since the restaurant opened.
“We sell more bratwurst than anything else,” Erica Christ said.
And that’s for good reason. Erich Christ butchers the meat himself and adds the family’s own spiced seasoning blend — no fillers here.
The bratwurst dinner, listed on the lunch menu, comes with two links of handmade bratwurst, hot German potato salad, seasoned sauerkraut and fresh, homemade rye bred. The cost of all this German goodness is $13.25.
Polish sausages are also available and special varieties of homemade sausages are sometimes offered.
What does Eat Street mean to you?
“I think it sort of reanimated a lot of people who used to come here, but didn’t come here anymore because of whatever, crime was bad, or they grew out of it and moved to a suburb or something like that,” Erica Christ said. “But then it became sort of interesting to come back down around here again.
“People can come to the area and think ‘If we don’t get in there, we can just go across the street, we can go down the block,’” she said.