Rolf’s: Traditional German Fare in the Heart of Gramercy Park, New York

Rolf’s German Restaurant has stood proudly in New York’s Gramercy Park neighborhood for fifty years. An institution in the city, Rolf’s is famous for its authentic Alsatian/Bavarian cuisine, German beer, and Glühwein (mulled wine). Rolf’s is also wildly popular over the holidays due to the antique Christmas decorations that cover nearly every inch of space in the establishment.Getting a reservation is tough around the holidays, so prospective diners need to plan. Reservation slots begin to fill the first week in October, and they book up quickly. If you can’t make it into New York City during that time, you can still enjoy the delicious food and the heartwarming ambiance as well, because, for the first time in its history, the decorations aren’t coming down until June.

Location: Located on the Southeast corner of 22nd Street and Third Avenue at 281 Third Avenue, New York, New York.

Menu: The menu is a marriage of Alsatian and Bavarian dishes. The Alsatian region, historically located in France, has cuisine resembling the area around the Rhine River, consisting of various versions of pork, a variety of sausages (Bratwurst, Weisswurst, Knackwurst) sauerkraut, chicken, duck, goose, and trout. You can also select from three types of preparation of schnitzel, sauerbraten (German-style pot roast that marinates for three days before roasting) meatloaf, ribeye steak and beef stew, all served with traditional sides of red cabbage, mashed potatoes or spätzle.

Thoughts: The first thing you notice as you enter the foyer is the dazzling and dizzying array of decorations. According to manager Robert Maisano, “The decorating process begins the Sunday before Labor Day weekend and is so labor-intensive and detailed, that the project ends up being finished by mid-October.” This year Mr. Maisano estimates the decorations cost around $80,000. The estimate includes the labor, the greenery, the lights and the hand blown crystals that reflect the colors of the multi-colored balls hanging like stalactites from the ceiling. Owners Rolf and Leisle Hoffman’s Heinrich Handwerck porcelain dolls (collectors items worth thousands of dollars) are also interspersed among the greenery. If you arrive on time, but your table is not ready, head to the bar and order the Glühwein, mulled wine with a cinnamon stick stirrer that warms the soul from the inside.It is the perfect way to begin the experience.The bar serves German beer selections like Weihenstephaner Hefe Weiss from Munich, Radeberger Pilsner from Dresden or bottles of Spaten and Heineken.

The food is hearty, and the portions are enormous. At first glance at the menu, you might be tempted to share, but upon further examination, you might choose to taste a variety of dishes. I started with the potato pancakes appetizer. There were three huge cakes served with homemade applesauce and sour cream, and they were delicious.The steamed mussels in Riesling broth were satisfying, buttery and fresh.The entrees were equally abundant. I tried the chicken schnitzel, pounded thin and fried crisp, served with brown gravy, spätzle, and green beans. You can choose from the traditional Weiner Schnitzel (veal) or Jaeger Schnitzel (pork) served three different ways. The Knackwurst was served with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and spicy mustard.The plate held two large links which had a savory, mild flavor and a satisfying crunch. It tasted incredible with the sides. The Bratwurst was full of pork flavor, perfectly spiced, and also paired well with the beer, sauerkraut, and mustard. If you enjoy traditional German food, the dishes  at Rolf’s are authentic and delicious.

Price Range:Appetizers range from $10.00 – $19.95 for items like shrimp or mussels, Meat Entrees range from $25.00 – $49.95 for the Rib Eye steak. Seafood entrees range from $29.50 -$36.00 for King Salmon. Poultry dishes range from $29.95 to the roast goose with dressing for $65.00. The desserts are all homemade and include: Black Forest cake, apple strudel, and apple crepes for $12.00. They have a small wine list of eight varieties (four red and four white) from $38.00 -$42.00, but they also sell wines by the glass.The Glühwein sells for $17.00 a glass.

Jeanine Consoli
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