The Head Cheese Stands Alone

Glockenspiel
605 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; (651) 292-9421
Hours: Daily 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.

 
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Glockenspiel

605 W. 7th St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Restaurant > German

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

For the purposes of this review, let us divide the world in half: On one side are those who don't mind blood sausage and head cheese but who would also rather walk barefoot through the State Fair's swine barn than endure a meal in which a recording of "Edelweiss," played on cowbells, is sounded half a dozen times. On the other side are those who are happy to listen to "Edelweiss" repeatedly, interlaced with an accordion-driven rendition of the "Chicken Dance," but would rather subsist entirely on movie-theater nachos than sample the more icky organs of your common barnyard animals.

Which side are you on? Answer that question and you'll pretty much know where you stand with regard to Glockenspiel, a new German restaurant on West Seventh Street in St. Paul that opened in late February, brought to you by Dave and Mary Wildmo, the folks who gave the world the Tavern on Grand, that northwoods-themed restaurant that specializes in walleye. When I first visited Glockenspiel a month after it opened, I was with a German friend, and as soon as we walked into the burbling place, vibrating with the noise of beer, bar chatter, and polka music, she exclaimed: "Wow--this smells like a German restaurant. I mean, it smells like a real restaurant, in Germany." She had never smelled anything like it in the United States, she said, and we attributed it to the particular scent of beer, sausage, cigarette smoke, and soap that laced the air. We settled in and were duly impressed with a couple of elegant, glass-cylinder steins of Warsteiner ($3.75), and the Brotzeit Teller, an appetizer plate for three or four people ($13.95) that boasted blood sausage, head cheese, cold bratwursts, cold slabs of ham, discs of summer sausage, thick slices of cold-cut-like sausages, a half-dozen sorts of cheese, herring, pickled eggs, four kinds of brown bread--in short, the works. "This is so right," said my friend, impressed. "This is exactly what my parents' friends would have when they got together."

Seated under the soaring tin ceiling, I marveled at the transformation wrought upon the gleefully tacky space that used to house Continental Pantry, seeing where fake fireplaces had been pulled out and where a black-velvet mural embedded with Christmas lights had been taken down. Now the space is all fairy-tale, jewel-toned murals and fresh paint. I also noted that as right as the appetizer plate was, aside from the very good blood sausage, the chunky chopped chicken liver, and the gelatinous head cheese (which even I'm not a fan of), none of the sausages or cheeses was better than you'd get at a run-of-the-mill grocery store. I attributed that to new-restaurant inconsistencies, as I did the cardboard-dry sauerbraten ($14.95) and salty, tough, hot-pink pork chop ($13.95), and nearly inedible, gummy spaetzle. I was heartened, though, by the Dobos torte ($3.95) that finished the meal; the traditional nine-layer dessert was made from delectable chocolate buttercream layered with moist, golden strips of sponge cake as tender as any I've ever had. This restaurant, I thought, is on the right track. Surely they'll refine the weak spots and we'll have a mature German restaurant to compete with the best in town, like the grande cuisine Schumacher's in New Prague and the beloved south Minneapolis comfort-food capitol, the Black Forest Inn.

Little did I know how fondly I would come to remember that first visit. Two months later a run of trips to Glockenspiel found the food, except for the side dishes, to be uniformly worse: The Brotzeit Teller had devolved to a skimpy offering of a few dried squares of cheese, nine itty-bitty dried pucks of bread, a sliver of ham, a few postage-stamp-size slices of herring, a slice of luncheon meat, and two cold pieces of bratwurst. Even the pickled egg had been replaced with a mere hard-boiled one. It had the appearance of a tray that had already been cherry-picked by others. I asked the server about the slim pickings, and he said icky stuff like blood sausage had found no fans at the restaurant.

A house salad ($6.95) was both overpriced and underwhelming. The menu promised it would come with "a colorful array of marinated vegetables," which turned out to be a tablespoonful of pickled-onion slices and a tiny pile of vinegared carrot shreds. The only worthwhile part of the plate was a scoop of fresh sour-cream-dressed potato salad (also available à la carte and, at $2.95, the far better bargain). Gulaschsuppe ($4.95), a vegetable-beef soup, tasted burned.

And then there was the awful pork shank ($14.95), which seems to go to every single table in the place. The size of a whole chicken, it's one of those highly visible, nearly unbelievable dishes that inspires copycatting among tables--the thing looks so outrageous you just have to have it. Unfortunately, while pork skin makes an attractive crust following a long roasting, the meat seemed entirely unseasoned and incredibly greasy--I can't remember the last time I had such an unredeemable dish. The only thing I found to eat on the plate was the piercingly salty sauerkraut and the potato dumpling, which wasn't bad.

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