Schroeder’s, one of the oldest San Francisco restaurants — it was established in 1893 — has reopened after undergoing some sensitive renovations. They were sensitive because you don’t want to mess too much with a good thing. And Schroeder’s was, and still is, a very good thing. So the Sauerkraut Kid decided to check it out.
As you may have guessed, your columnist is the Sauerkraut Kid. My father gave me that nickname when he began taking me to Schroeder’s in 1940 or thereabouts. I think I was about 12. Even as a kid, I liked sauerkraut. But I liked it most with large hunks of pork loin or with one of the sausages or wursts like bratwurst. Sometimes, when I wasn’t the Sauerkraut Kid, my dad called me the Wurst Kid. He thought that was funny.
THE BEST OF THE WURSTS
There are a lot of wursts — not all of these are served at Schroeder’s — so if you are not a wurst person you may want to turn the page right now. We are about to get esoteric.
Consider: augbergerwurst, bauernwurst, blutwurst, bockwurst, bratwurst, gehrinwurst, kalbsleberwurst, kartoffelwurst, königswurst, knackwurst, knoblauchwurst, mettwurst, Nürnburgerwurst, Polnischwurst, Rindfleischwurst, rotwurst, weisswurst, or zungenwurst — all strong-flavored, full of character, and designed for hearty eaters.
My father and I had a thing about restaurants. We frequented the Cliff House for New England-style clam chowder, Original Joes (the old one on Taylor) for beef stew or spaghetti and meatballs, and on special occasions, the Garden Court of the Palace Hotel for the elaborate Palace Court Salad. I still remember it: artichoke hearts, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, hardboiled eggs, Dungeness crab, and either Louie or the famous Green Goddess dressing that Palace chef Philip Roemer created for the actor George Arliss, who was staying in the hotel at the time while starring in a play called — the Green Goddess, of course.
When we went to the Garden Court, we dressed up because it was a fancy place, and my mother was always with us.
SCHROEDER’S WAS A GUY JOINT
When we went to Schroeder’s my mother didn’t join us because women were not allowed then. It was a guy joint until 1970. Not realizing we were insensitive males (this was considerably before insensitive maleness) we happily went to Schroeder’s, 240 Front Street — that’s where it’s still located — for sauerkraut, wurst of course, wiener schnitzel, and copious steins of German beer. At least my father had copious steins of beer. Our white-aproned waiter poured me a stein of Coca-Cola. The stein, with a lid on it, made my day.
OTHER OLD TIME RESTAURANTS
As I said, Schroeder’s was established in 1893, making it one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco. Other old-timers, you will recall are Tadich Grill, 240 California Street, which dates its founding to 1849 when it started out as a street stand; the Old Clam House, 299 Bayshore Boulevard, which opened in 1861; Sam’s Grill, 344 Bush Street, 1867; and Fior D’ Italia, 2237 Mason Street, 1886.
GERMAN BEER AND SAUERKRAUT
Here’s a fast history of Schroeder’s: Henry and John Schroeder, whose father had come to San Francisco from the Prussian province of Han-over in 1861, first opened their restaurant at 1346 Market Street between First and Second streets. It was destroyed in the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. A few years later it reopened at 117 Front Street. Then in 1921, the Schroeders sold it to Max Kniesche, also from Prussia, and in 1959, Kniesche moved it to the present 240 Front Street location. In 1997, Stefan and Jana Filipcik bought the historic spot and last year it was sold to Andy Chun and Jan Wiginton, who also operate the Press Club in the Financial District. The new “German-inspired” cuisine is under the direction of chef Manfred Wrembel, who is of German descent. And that should do it for today’s history lesson.
My father — an Alsatian who knew a thing or two about German food — isn’t with us anymore and neither is the old Schroeder’s. But the new Schroeder’s attracted me, and I raised a cold glass of a powerful, nearly black, Schneider Aventinus Weizenbock (a German lager) to my father. Then I checked out the bratwurst and sauerkraut, both house made and both excellent. The sauerkraut was crunchy and mellow, not limp and sour. My companion and I decided to share, which was wise. She ordered potato pancakes. They were topped with a bit of smoked trout, crème fraîche, capers, and threads of mild horseradish. It was a new take on potato pancakes for us and we enjoyed it.
Here are a few last words on sauerkraut from the Sauerkraut Kid. If you don’t like it —and I realize it has its detractors — I think I know why. It’s sour. Sauerkraut needs to be rinsed with cold water and drained several times before it is prepared. There are many simple sauerkraut recipes. So cook up some with a few hot dogs if you can’t find a proper wurst. Pour a stein of German beer and propose a toast to the old and the new Schroeder’s. Prost!
If you don’t have the advantage of a copy of Larousse Gastronomique in your library and are curious about wursts, e-mail me at [email protected], and I’ll send you a short rundown and my simple recipe for sauerkraut.