borscht, o-rama, Schulte and Herr Portland Maine, soup

Soup-O-Rama: Schulte and Herr


When Professor A. asked us to call out our choices for this months “Soup-O-Rama,” I first called Pai Men, thinking it was time to revisit their soups after not ordering them for nearly a year. Then I had the grandiose notion of reviewing three soups for a bit of compare/contrast. Do you know how many soups I’ve had in the past 2 months (not counting the Chowder from last months ‘O-Rama’)?  One. But, I’ve had it twice, so that’s got to count for something. The funny thing is, it’s probably the last soup in the world that I would think I’d be reviewing.

Borscht.

Go ahead and say the name again in your head and this time try not to laugh. It’s not really a soup that you read much about and, lacking a Russian or Ukrainian family, it’s probably not one that you’ve had (I survived six years of Russian language education and have dated a Lithuanian for nearly eight years without ever having it). You never hear someone say, “Wow, I could really for some Borscht right now.”

It’s true.

We actually have a jar of Lithuanian Borscht, Šaltibarščiai, that we purchased at Medeo European Market in Westbrook. It exists in our cabinets because The Missus will buy anything she can that’s Lithuanian, but it looks more like red sauerkraut than soup.

But all of that changed when I had my first chance to try Borscht at Schulte and Herr last month. I was a bit surprised when it was offered on the menu (it’s not a dish I associate with German food), but then owner Steffi told me that it was a compromise with her and her husband, Chef Brian Davin. He wanted to do a Borscht, while she wanted an Oxtail Soup. They met halfway and I’m very thankful that they did.

Just take a moment and look at that beauteous red bowl of home cooked comfort.

Makes you want some Borscht, doesn’t it?

I can tell you, without doubt or hesitation, that it tastes as good as it looks. You may not have a tendency to crave a warm soup on an equally warm day, but this may have you thinking a bit different.  The broth, with all of its chunky, meaty goodness, is surprisingly light in both texture and flavor and a far cry from the cold weather gruel one mentally associates with Borscht. The beets and carrots, along with marjoram, provide an all around pleasant sweetness, but the natural earthiness in the beets (you know, that flavor profile that causes some to compare it to dirt) keeps that pretty level.  A bit of red wine vinegar adds a touch of acidity and helps to further lighten the dish, which is also packed full of potatoes and celery. It’s a simple soup that’s wonderfully crafted, but they really had me at ‘oxtail.’

The meat, braised separately and then added later on in the process, is ridiculously tender. It stews just long enough in the soup to take on a bit of color and sweetness, but never gets lost. While oxtails are naturally fattier, the soup lacks any residual greasiness from their inclusion. However Chef Brian Davin prepares his oxtail for the soup, he seems to take great care to remove any excess fat from the shredded pieces that make their way into each bowl. The first time we shared the soup, which was not a mistake repeated the second time, The Missus was kind enough to give me the last little nugget of oxtail in the cup. Tell me that’s not love.

Served with a few slices of homemade rye bread, a bowl of their Borscht easily makes for a satisfying meal. A cup more than suffices as a starter but, as I’ve just said, don’t make the mistake of trying to share it. Order your own and save the bread for the end to soak up the broth.


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Schulte and Herr Portland Maine, st

Schulte and Herr Selling Stollen and Other Breads

Just a wee bit of an FYI for your holidays. The wonderful couple behind Schulte and Herr are selling homemade German Stollen cakes this holiday season for $10 each. Steffi gave us a little taste of one this past Sunday, when we stopped in for brunch before PICNIC, and it was–much like their other homemade breads–utterly fantastic.

If you’re interested, they’re asking for 48 hour notice and are taking orders now. In fact, you can order any of their breads with 48 hours notice. How f’ing awesome is that? I now no longer have to hunt around for a good rye bread to serve with my attempt at Chef Krista Desjarlais’ Beet and Vodka Cured Gravlax on Christmas Eve.

You can reach them @ 207-773-1997.

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Breakfast and brunch, German food in Portland Maine, Schulte and Herr Portland Maine

Sunday at Schulte and Herr

The Bollard’s Dan Zarin nailed it in his final paragraph, when he said:

Until now, I hadn’t realized that the Portland restaurant scene was lacking a German breakfast-and-lunch café, but it turns out that’s precisely what was missing.

Schulte and Herr is the most pleasant surprise to hit Portland in quite some time. While many have long since pined for better Chinese food, more authentic Mexican and less expensive Greek food (this is the Missus’ personal wish), there was never a peep over the near void of hearty Eastern European fare (You can get some killer Perogis at Bogusha’s Polish Deli on Stevens). Now, with our first visit to Schulte and Herr, I can’t imagine Portland without it.

We were there for their first official Sunday Brunch (they’ve opted to close on Mondays instead) and nearly every seat was full when we were seated. Five mintues later, there would be people waiting. The space is small and understated, I think I had expected something more akin to other loud, garish German restaurants I had visited. I understood, when our food arrived, the room could be so subtle because the food would leave such an impact.

The Missus, who spent a couple of years in boarding school in Germany, took one look at the menu and said, “This is what I ate everyday for two years.” She was happy the moment her eyes hit the page. You also have to remember that her family is Lithuanian, which has a similar ‘meat and potatoes’ culture. She’s joked with her family that if you were to cut into any of them, sour cream would pour out. This is the food of her people.

No dish on the menu connected that together more than the special of pickled makerel with potato salad and beet sauce.

In Lithuanian culture, pickled herring is a staple of Kūčios. It was also the most glaring thing missing when we celebrated our first together last Christmas. Having never had pickled fish, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. But the first bite eliminated any fear and I eagerly flaked off greedy sections and devoured it with their wonderful beet sauce. The fish was neither too briny nor too fishy. The meat of the fish was just bright enough to cut through the richness from the naturally oily mackerel. An appreciated side of hearty German styled (obviously) potato salad made this is a generously portioned appetizer. That heaping plate was only $6 and more than worth every penny.

The Missus ordered the Bergmannkiez, a plate of various cured and smoked meats, cheeses, jam, bread and fruit. The cheeses were the only un-German elements of the meal, one a triple creme brie(I’m guessing Delice de Bourgogne from France) and the Italian Piave Vecchio, similar to the Hartkase or ‘hard cheese.’ But, in defense of the choices, these are both wonderful, contrasting cheeses that paired beautifully with the various smoked and cured ham and sausages on the plate(we both greatly enjoyed the peppered and smoked sausage). Also, Portland doesn’t really offer much in the way of German cheeses outside of Limburger or Cambozola, so you can’t really fault them. Not only were the meats and cheeses wonderful, but the homemade bread it was served with was even better. It was hearty and homey, and if they offered it, I would buy rye bread from them every week. I’m a sucker for a good rye bread with caraway and there’s is the best that I’ve had outside of Boston.

But, as much as I swooned over the offerings that the Missus had in front of her, I was even more enamored with my choice of potato pancakes and house cured lox. This was actually another first for me as I am not one to order smoked or cured salmon instead of something with meat, but Dawn had raved on about it so much that I knew it shouldn’t be missed. And it wasn’t and I was so glad I took her recommendation. Like some of the best salmon I’ve had at Miyake, the dilly lox melted on the tongue under a slight dab of horseradish sauce. The pancakes were beautifully pan fried patties, crunchy on the outside and creamy inside, and added a bit of heartiness to the lightness of the salmon. Paired with cornichons, capers and radishes, every element of texture seemed to be represented and every bite was a different combination of elements. And every single one was greatly enjoyed.

With nearly everything made on site, and where dishes seemed pressed to reach above $10 a plate, Schulte and Herr is easily one of the best new restaurants in town, where people always seem to be calling for ‘more bang for my buck.’ The portions are generous, preparation simple and, most importantly, the food is good. Really, really good.

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