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More Schnitzel, Please

German fare a home-style treat for grownups and toddlers alike

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Author's note: The following review is being typed with the aid of one 5-month-old. If you don't understand why, either you've never had children or you're far enough past the baby stage to be a grandparent (in which case, holding this delightful, little, teething bundle of drool would be a treat, not a tribulation).

I've never met anyone who hated German food. Most people either like it or are indifferent to it. Personally, I love it, but I can see where it isn't the type of cuisine to inspire passionate debate. German food, to me, is comfort food. It's hearty, soothing, uncomplicated, and the kind of thing a mom would cook up on a chilly Sunday afternoon while you were out racing your sled down a snow-covered hill.

So, with great expectations, I went to visit Mannheim 99, the latest German restaurant to open in the Springs. The last time I ate German food, I went into labor, but I figured, not being pregnant, I'd be safe this time. Plus, I'd be able to enjoy the food without having my kidneys pummeled from the inside.

I'm giving the food at Mannheim two thumbs up, but the service only one thumb because it was so uneven. On our first visit, we got a plate of freshly-sliced light rye bread almost immediately after placing our order. That was nice. But then we waited a very long time to get our salads, which were followed almost immediately by our entrees. We had to ask for silverware for our toddler, since we're at least attempting to teach her the social graces, like eating with a fork instead of her fingers. And our waitress rarely checked back with us.

On the second visit, the pacing was much better, and our waitress seemed more attentive and observant.

I was pleased to discover that the salads weren't identical on our two visits. On the first visit, we got lettuce with a light, non-acidic vinaigrette, a marinated cucumber salad nicely flavored with dill, a German potato salad that wasn't outstanding, and two cabbage salads (one green, one red) that tasted identically sharp and tart. On the second trip, the green salad and the cucumbers were the same, to my delight. The potato salad was missing (but not missed), and the two cabbage salads were new. The green cabbage salad was good, not as tart as the previous example, but the red cabbage salad was outstanding, tangy but with a sweet undertone and a slight flavor of apples. I didn't get a chance to ask, but I wonder if perhaps they used cider (or cider vinegar) to flavor the red cabbage.

Never before Mannheim's have I ever eaten spaetzle that I couldn't rave about. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I've come to expect. I like my spaetzle small, bumpy, chewy, perfect for trapping gravy. These spaetzle noodles were very large, served dry and sprinkled with bread crumbs. I've heard of serving spaetzle buttered and garnished with bread crumbs, but these were just dry. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough Jaeger sauce on my schnitzel to rectify the problem.

The handmade dumplings, however, are a masterpiece, but be warned: These dumplings are the size of softballs! The best mode of attack is to hold one with a fork and slice it in two with a knife; you don't want to tackle one of these babies with a fork and find it flying across the table. The fried potatoes that come with some entrees are, in a word, flawless. Or perhaps phenomenal. Dark golden-brown and crispy on the outside, fluffy and light on the inside. I don't even like fried potatoes, but I could eat a plateful of these.

The schnitzel (all pork, no veal here) is incredible. Fork-tender, golden-brown, boneless pieces of pork are perfectly fried, not greasy at all, wonderful plain with a squeeze of lemon juice or in the Jaeger (hunter) sauce. The Jaeger sauce here is not too rich but still robust, augmented with thickly sliced mushrooms. The sauerbraten is nicely rendered too, although not quite as tender as it could be. The bratwurst was lean and tasty but more like an American version than a truly German sausage. The gulasch is a wonderfully rich stew, full of real Hungarian paprika flavor, smoky and slightly sweet. Tender chunks of beef and pork share the thick broth with thick, tender slices of bell pepper.

If you don't have kids, feel free to skip this paragraph. The children's menu at Mannheim needs some tweaking, or perhaps they should just have some selections suitable for younger children. Toddlers usually aren't too big on schnitzel, although they love wieners. And what the menu described as a homemade tater tot turned out to be a beautifully executed potato croquette, light and delicately flavored on the inside, with a thin, lightly crispy crust. It comes with a yummy cheese topped with a big dollop of sour cream. It was a beautiful, delicious treat, but not really geared for the young 'uns.

The atmosphere at Mannheim 99 is nice and relaxed. The tables are beautiful, sturdy wood, mostly accented with lace table toppers. Even the highchairs are the big, old-fashioned wooden type, impeccably clean with the modern bonus of a seatbelt. There's a nice selection of wines, plus several German beers for those so inclined. If you like German food, or want a meal like Mom's Sunday best, you should definitely stop by Mannheim sometime.

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