Surely you've noticed that the past few years have seen a boom of new German eateries, most of them sausage-and-beer halls. There's even been an honest-to-goodness biergarten built into an actual, well, garden. But have you also noticed that, for the most part, all you could get at these places were sausage sandwiches? It's as if all the new Chinese restaurants in town decided to only serve egg rolls.
A duo of restaurateurs who bucked the sausage sandwich trend five years ago with Wirtshaus in LA has done it again in Long Beach's Bixby Knolls neighborhood. Rasselbock actually serves German dishes—bountiful plates of meat, starch and veggies. There are still sausages—a dozen kinds, in fact—but also schnitzel and spätzle and German potato pancakes.
And if the presence of schnitzel and spätzle isn't ample proof that Bjoern Risse and Bülent Yildirim are actually from Deutschland, take a look at the drink list. No, not the beers—of which there's the usual encyclopedic variety—but the non-alcoholic stuff. You'll not only find Spezi—which is the half-Coke, half-Orange-Fanta blend beloved by Germans (and perhaps only Germans)—but also Apfelsaftschorle, apple juice cut with sparkling mineral water. And then there's the drink that kind of says it all: Karamalz, which is described on the menu as “a German kid's malt beer.”
It's good that everyone, even the underaged, can wash down his or her meal with a malt beverage of some kind. This is still a bar with communal high tops and TVs tuned to sports, after all. Beer is necessary, if not required. And it's not only served in pints, but also in gigantic steins larger than a 7-Eleven Big Gulp. There's even the option of ordering a boot, which is about quadruple the cost of a pint and the equivalent of drinking an entire 2 liter bottle in one sitting.
But the food here warrants large quantities of pilsners and lagers. This is hearty fare for hearty people. The schnitzel comes in pork, chicken or veal, pounded thin and cocooned in greaseless golden breading. Take the option of dousing your schnitzel in a mushroom cream sauce, and you've got Rasselbock's version of Jägerschnitzel, which is simultaneously light and stick-to-your-ribs. Imagine an ultra-filling, gravy-soaked, Southern, chicken-fried steak but without all the guilt.
The sides you pick for the schnitzels may have something to do with it. There's an airy North German-style potato salad seasoned with only the slightest touch of mayo and mustard. The boiled Brussels sprouts are cooked with wine and garlic; the wine imbues the sprouts with a subtle bitterness that cuts through all oncoming cream and protein, and the garlic is so strong you smell it before you even taste it.
But the side you definitely want is that homemade spätzle, stubby and wiggly egg noodles formed by a potato-ricer, then boiled and dressed in nothing but butter. The uninitiated might think it's mac and cheese missing its cheese, but for those raised on Karamalz, it will taste like something made by mutter.
If you're going to have a sausage plate for your meal, make sure to pick one not already on the appetizer platter, which is what you should order as soon as you're seated. The sampler comes with three of the best sausages Rasselbock offers: the essentials of bratwurst, Käsekrainer (pork sausage embedded with chunks of Emmentaler cheese) and a spicy jalapeño-chicken with mango. Cut into bevels, each piece bursts with juice, the natural casing snapping against your teeth. Dip them in three homemade mustards, ranging from the sticky-sweet to the sinus-clearing. The deviled eggs are also a great appetizer choice, with the yolks formed into perfect domes, then topped with crumbled bacon they probably don't need and a nice garlic aioli they do. The eggs are almost as good for sharing as the tender, bite-sized potato pancakes dolloped with applesauce and mascarpone cheese. One order comes with six, and if you pair that with the sausage sampler and a bowl of the excellent beef goulash, it's already a meal for two.
When you're ready to move on to the actual sausage plates, there's a veritable zoo's worth to pick from: everything from wild boar to duck to buffalo. There are even two vegan sausages. Though a little dry, the chicken curry sausage—packed with cilantro, raisins and roasted shallots—tastes as if it belongs at a Thai restaurant. But as the English have proven with their bangers, fluffy mashed potatoes are the perfect side for any and all of Rasselbock's tubemeats. Buns need not apply.
Rasselbock, 4020 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 912-4949; www.rasselbocklb.com. Mon.-Thurs., 4-11 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-midnight; Sat., 9 a.m.-midnight; Sun., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Meal for two, $30-$50, food only. Beer and wine.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.