Eat San Francisco: Suppenkuche
Sometimes, there is nothing that will do, nothing at all, but a good old-fashioned schnitzel slinging, das boot pouring, mug clacking, beer hall. There are a couple that we like in San Francisco, (and one that we make pigrimages to in Redwood city, but that’s another post) one of which is our old standby, the one we’ve been frequenting for probably a decade now; Suppenkuche in Hayes valley. A word of warning, it is slightly annoying to get to, being located in a really trendy neighborhood with no parking, directly on a main, stop signed (not lit) road that leads indirectly to the freeway a few blocks away. What I’m getting at is, take a cab if possible. You will be far less road ragey upon arrival and also far less likely to add that DUI notch to your belt upon departure.
Suppenkuche is one of our favorite places to bring out-of-towners and newer friends for a couple of reasons, first of which is the convivial, communal table, Oktoberfesty vibe, followed by the accessible, crowd pleasing menu as a close second. We bring our less food obsessed friends as well, which is not to say Suppenkuche has bad food by any means, but they do have…understandable food, for lack of a better way to put it (for the record, we bring food fanatics too). I know this is going to sound nuts, but truly, we have been tortured on many an occasion while dining out in San Francisco with people who literally say they don’t understand the menu wherever it is that we are. It happens. I’m serious. It actually happens A LOT. I recommended Zuni café to someone who actually got up and left the restaurant because they could not make heads or tails of it. ZUNI. To add insult to injury, this person was “Italian.”
So, Suppenkuche is always a safe choice when we are out with someone we’ve never dined with before, which is to say, there is something for everyone, and it is, for the most part, simple, recognizable, hearty fare. I guess I should note here, there are a couple of vegetarian options on the menu but I cannot vouch for those because we do not dine out with vegetarians.
The beer hall theme is obvious upon arrival, where you are met by these two heavy wood doors, which just seem to say, it’s time to walk into the old country for a spell.
The interior is pure Bavaria, with white, stone walls, that rounded ceiling so popular in European beer halls, blond wood picnic tables, and a cozy little bar. In addition to the front room shown in this photo, there is a room of about equal size, with larger/longer communal tables, if memory serves, in the back.
This comfy little den is snuggled into a corner on the non dining room side of the bar. One can settle in for a meal over here, but we chose it as our snacking and drinking spot as we waited for the rest of our party to arrive (all must be present to be seated at a table)
They have a nice variety of German (and a few Belgian) beer selections, organized on the menu by type; Pilsners, Hefeweizens, Bock/Dopplebock, Kolsch, etc. offered in either bottle or draft, depending.
I went with a half liter of the Paulaner Marzen, for a taste bud trip down memory lane, back to Oktoberfest, where I languished for a good ten hours in the Paulaner tent.
Wine is also on offer (though I have never so much as looked at the wine list) and, of course, Underberg. No visit to Suppenkuche is complete without the table pounding, eye contact toast making (seven years bad sex!), little bottle of herbiness held in the teeth and slid down the throat.
Just so you know, I don’t pass up pretzels. Like, ever.
These were warm and malty, sweet and salty, delicious on their own or dunked in mustard (I almost got run out of Munich, asking for mustard to go with my pretzel, just FYI) but they are really amazing with a big smear of that cheesy ball there on the plate, a creamy mix of brie and camembert; like a slug of extra special butter all over your pretzel.
Soon, we were seated, at a table with another random group of four, which is how we like it. It’s much more fun to drink with strangers, to heft your liter to the center of the table for a big group “prost!” and, I think it makes the dining experience much more interesting for out-of-towners who get to chat up locals other than us. Brown bread with herb spread is brought to accompany pre-dinner beers and keep people from getting hangry. That herby cheese is so freaking perfectly Germany and the bread has a really nice dill flavor. It’s seriously good stuff.
Had we not eaten pretzels at the bar, we would have ordered our usual appetizer, the vesperplatte, a charcuterie plate, basically, of ham, blood sausage, salami, and cheese, always a crowd pleaser.
For some reason, I consistently order wrong at Suppenkuche. I always go for the jagerschnitzel, which is probably my favorite of all German fare, but theirs isn’t that great. The gravy is a little lackluster, a little bland and a little heavy. The schnitzel batter is also a tad light on flavor, lacking salt, and it doesn’t hold up under the gravy, making for a soggy schnitzel. I will always chase the perfection that was jagerschnitzel at U Babci Malini in Krakow, but alas, this is Suppenkuche and I just refuse to learn my damn lesson. The spaetzle that comes with it is fine; toothsome, a little buttery, not too greasy.
The Jagerschnitzel comes with a simple green salad side, which is literally just some brightly dressed lettuce (shown here, in one seriously bright picture).
The order I always intend to get before I freak out and get the wrong thing is the bratwurst with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes
Often, in the outside world, I find bratwurst to be kinda bland. Like, just…meh. Where Suppenkuche doesn’t satisfy my personal jagerschnitzel preferences, they exceed my expectations of a brat. You can tell just by looking at these; they are beautifully carmelized, and you can literally see the flavor in the spices/seasonings involved. They are anything but boring, and when accompanied by some spicy mustard, that giant mound of luscious mashed potatoes and a pile of tangy sauerkraut? A meat and potatoes victory has been achieved.
For the first time ever, I got to try the meatloaf; a dish I had never even considered ordering.
Oh holy hell. I had NO idea. People should be shouting from the rooftops about that meatloaf. Yeah, that’s an egg nestled there in the middle. YES IT IS. And what you can’t see? That meatloaf is smokey. It’s smokey! It’s moist, it’s robust, it’s meaty, it’s even a little creamy from that hardboiled egg, it’s saucy, it’s a little sweet, and it’s motherfucking smokey. Also, those potatoes are like 50% butter, 50% potato. My friend, he smuggled every last nibble of that meatloaf and mashed potatoes out the door with him.
Some desserts arrived, courtesy of the house. One, a cake.
I don’t know exactly what it was, because we didn’t order it, but as you can see, it was some variety of chocolate and cream. Cake has to be transcendental for me to really enjoy it, so, I handed that off to the rest of the table after a taste.
Apple strudel though? Yeah I could wreck this apple strudel like three times a day. I could.
Meat and potatoes stuck to bones, German beer swimming in belly, Underberg rattling in brain; as it has been, and as it shall be.
525 Laguna st. San Francisco CA 94102