Mecklenberg Gardens, one of the oldest Cincinnati restaurants, is a perfect alternative to Oktoberfest. Now, don’t get me wrong– I’m not suggesting you skip Oktoberfest– but sometimes, you want something a little German, a little quieter, and maybe something with more German than American influence. This is where you should go to get your German fix the rest of the year (or maybe on your way down to Oktoberfest this weekend).
Mecklenberg Gardens, located in University Heights, is in a 19th century building, covered by 100-year-old grape vines. You can easily imagine German immigrants who traveled up Vine from Over-the-Rhine drinking a beer in the biergarten, or sharing a drink at the beautiful, old bar. Though tastes have changed, the spirit remains the same, and it’s now one of the few German restaurants in Cincinnati.
This used to be a more frequent stop for me when I worked at the American Jewish Archives and my former boss loved to come here for beer and to relax after work. They have an excellent beer list, including locals, national microbrews and, of course, German imports. The food is a mix of the traditional (sauerbraten, wienerschnitzel) and twists on German food (Sauerkraut eggrolls). It’s okay to innovate, even when you’re in a restaurant that’s got so much tradition behind it.
When I finally got The Better Half there (he’s been in Cincinnati for nine years and has never been to Mecklenberg– a shame!), we were really only going for appetizers, and I had one thing on my mind: obatzda. When we spent time in Munich a couple of years ago, I practically lived on obatzda, a mix of camembert, butter (!), onions, and spices, including a healthy dose of paprika. It sounds strange, but it’s something my grandmother ate when I was a kid, and held a lot of pleasant memories for me. I remember quite well the server at Hofbrauhaus (not my favorite beer hall in Munich, but still adequate) being very impressed that the American woman was ordering obatzda. He mentioned this several times. I suppose he expected me to be satisfied with a pretzel!). They have a pretty decent rendition of it here, called “Bavarian Spread”. It’s creamy, a bit sharp from the aged camembert, and mildly spiced. It contrasts well with the sharp, pungent onions and goes great on pumpernickel.
The Better Half, on the other hand, wanted fried stuff (hey, it was a Friday). The plate included fried pickles, sauerkraut balls, and potato pancakes. Many of these items are also available at Oktoberfest at Mecklenberg’s booth. Of the sauerkraut balls I’ve had, Mecklenberg’s are my favorite, as there’s a good ratio of sauerkraut to filler without being either too heavy on vinegar, or too heavy on filler. The potato pancake is also good, and if you like fried pickle spears, these are great as well.
Definitely check out Mecklenberg– this weekend or some other weekend when you need some German food.
Are you heading down to Oktoberfest? Here are a few things you should definitely try:
- Helmut’s Strudel. For a German town we have very little strudel, and Helmut’s is a food fair staple across the country. I know we’ll be getting a piece this weekend.
- Germania Society Mock Turtle Soup. It’s more Cincinnati than Germany, but something I associate with my German grandmother.
- Laszlo’s Fried Dill Pickle chips– chips are my favorite fried pickle form, and these are really good.
- Cincinnati Goetta Haus– anything. It’s goetta.
- Servattii’s Bavarian Cream Puff is a classic, must-try. You should share with a friend as it’s gigantic.