Compared to Mexican taquerías, Italian eateries, Mediterranean delis, and French-fusion bistros, German fare lags significantly behind in the league of trendy international cuisine. It’s not hard to find, say, a hummus wrap or a fish taco at a food truck — but go searching for some schnitzel, and you could end up hungry.
That might be why George Ettwein and Greg Ledford, co-owners of Black Forest restaurant in the Arden area, waited so long to open up a second edition of their successful German chalet, which they’ve operated since 1997. The downtown-Hendersonville version, Black Forest on 5th, debuted in April in the cozy, two-story corner building located next to City Hall.
The original Black Forest, a roomy locale popular for parties, serves a full menu of steak, seafood, and upscale pasta dishes (e.g. Filetto Cremolata) along with its list of German specialties. But at Black Forest on 5th, a tighter boutique space, Ettwein and Ledford are concentrating just on the latter — attracting a mature clientele that may miss German food from European travels or from having served in that country in the armed forces, Ettwein notes. (His own ancestors hail from the wooded, mountainous region of Germany that gives both restaurants their name.)
“It’s comfort food,” says Ettwein. “It’s food that brings back a lot of memories.” Folks come for the Jaeger or Rahm schnitzels (breaded-and-fried pork, veal, or chicken cutlets, dressed respectively in Bordelaise and paprika-cream sauce); for the robustly satisfying beef sauerbraten; for the knackwurst and the bratwurst; for the tangy German potato salad and the creamy, rich Spaetzle (a dumpling-like side dish); for the Black Forest cake with cherry topping; for the apple strudel.
The interior is mellow and sophisticated. Only the vaguest strains of polka music and the occasional Alpine painting remind diners of the genre. “Everything is homemade. We don’t freeze stuff — it’s all cooked to order. We do it fresh and right,” says Ettwein. The main thing, he says, is “consistency.”
He learned to make all the classic European specialties from Herbert Schlenker, the first owner of Black Forest in Asheville. But Ettwein’s family can claim its own culinary legacy in Western North Carolina: his mother owned Emma’s Sandwiches & More on Main Street Hendersonville back in the mid-1980s.
Food culture in tourist destinations tends to shift rather madly. The scene is marked by high turnover, both of servers and of restaurants. In this milieu, Ettwein and Ledford can boast about something even rarer than their signature schnitzel: staff that has worked for Black Forest for the majority of the business’ 18 years. “We have at least 25 people who’ve been with us for a decade or more,” muses Ettwein.
Now that’s old-world.
Black Forest on 5th (123 East 5th Ave., Hendersonville) is open every day for lunch and dinner, beginning at 11am “til whenever.” Call 828-692-1986 for reservations or for more information.