My friend and I decided to have dinner at Cafe Berlin last Sunday and it didn’t take long until we both felt reminded of home. Right upon entering, we were struck by the distinctly German atmosphere. At the unpretentious German-style bar, we were greeted by the restaurant’s cheerful and witty crew. You might say they had a bit of a “Berliner Schnauze,” the straightforwardness and repartee that dwellers of the Prussian capital are known for and that non-Berliners either love it or hate.. At Café Berlin, we chose to love.
Moreover, we loved that it’s a German restaurant that’s not Bavarian themed! The stylish black and white interior and the artwork are meant to prompt you into 1920s Berlin. This is quite refreshing – Cafe Berlin doesn’t need to capitalize on your usual sausage fest. This is not to say that it doesn’t offer your favorite sausage platter if that’s what you’re after. But we were much more impressed the huge selection of solid German entrees – rouladen, roasts, schnitzels. I tried the Jägerschnitzel, a pork cut with mushroom and bacon sauce that came with spätzle, a well-made German classic. It all comes down to a thin (but large) cut of meat, which Cafe Berlin seems to master.
But besides the classics, Cafe Berlin surprises with its own takes on German favorites. Some of them slightly odd, many of them heavy on sauerkraut. Since it was DC Restaurant Week, they offered a set menu, featuring a Flammkuchen with sauerkraut, corned beef, swiss cheese and thousand islands dressing as an appetizer. We thought that was a bit much and refrained – although other patrons seemed fully content with what I would call a flatbread Reuben rather than a Flammkuchen. The fried sauerkraut balls on the other hand were quite scrumptious. We ordered them alongside the pretzel bites – equally delicious but slightly disappointing because both came with the same sweet mustard sauce.
Only the desert tray left us somewhat uninspired: Café Berlin has quite an impressive selection of solid house baked cakes – black cherry, currant, raspberry, chocolate and cheesecake. But we would have wanted them with our afternoon coffee rather than after a big hearty meal when our minds were set to custard, ice cream or fruit.
And yet, Cafe Berlin will not leave you wanting. Rather than to the dessert tray, I would refer you to the drinks menu to conclude your dinner. I appreciated the good selection of German beers – and I cannot praise the place enough for skipping the omnipresent Spaten for Rothaus Tannenzäpfle, one of my favorites from the Black Forrest. The bar menu struck me as just the place where we like to see creativity rather than traditionalism. And I loved the Methusalem Johannisburger, a craft black currant beer – quite pricey but full of tart and earthy flavors and of course unthinkable under the German “Reinheitsgebot.” Or if you like to be even more adventurous, end your evening with one of the quite wild signature cocktails. The “Berliner Airlift,” sour wheat with Aperol and Jägermeister, or the “German Invasion,” pilsner with elderflower liquor, will make it a memorable trip to the little Berlin of Capitol Hill.
Café Berlin on Capital Hill, 323 Massachusetts Ave, NE, Washington, DC 20002