A Very Big Door for Delighted Guests
The motto under the restaurant’s name Torschänke reads, “Hessich, Rustikal, Geniessen.” Roughly translated, it means, “Hessian, rustic and enjoyably savory.” Here, in Germany’s forested Hessian state, we had the time of our lives in a festive, welcoming, down-sized German bierhaus, a charming and cozy solid-wood bistro that warmed us inside and out.
It’s only fair to say that this fabulous dining experience was orchestrated entirely by our host and server, Mr. Oliver Stevens. Now, Oliver’s name sounds more English than German, but he assured us he was native German, through and through. Oliver is perfectly fitted for this job: He is big-hearted, warm, hilarious, energetic, and sparkling with enthusiasm. He brought every dish with a poignant story and each time left our table with an animated giggle. Oliver was the entertainment, and we couldn’t wait patiently enough for him to stop again and again at our table to regale us with another story and another round of food and drink. We spent nearly two-and-a-half hours munching, gorging, laughing, and looking over our shoulders, hoping for Oliver’s next visit to our table. There is no better reason to dine at the Hotel Gravenbruch’s Torschänke restaurant than to have Oliver Stevens serve you a memorable—unforgettable, dinner.
As guests of the hotel, we were invited to hop in the hotel’s golf cart which took us to its distinctive restaurant. Exiting the cart, we were introduced to Oliver who was outside, laughing with some guests. He escorted us to our booth, a simple wooden table with wooden benches and a couple throw pillows. What initially seemed like simple surroundings soon turned into a gargantuan feast accompanied by unmatched hilarity.
Oliver told us that the “tor” in Torschänke meant “big door” in German, and that “schänke” refereed to guest rooms. The restaurant’s name reflected the hospitality it offered to guests for hundreds of years. Oliver explained that hunting wild boar served as the sport for the German rich and famous since the 16th century, much as polo was the sport of the nobility in England. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Frankfurt aristocrats would come to Gravenbruch to dine and relax. The Torschänke excels in keeping this distinctive, rustic flavor in all its offerings.
“I have something very special prepared for you tonight,” Oliver announced, ending with his customary giggle. He seemed excited to present us with each new dish. As we studied the menu, Oliver brought out an apple cider sparkling wine. Later, he brought a couple different beers. I had the “Allgauer Buble Edelweissbier” while my wife had the “Binding Fruhlingsmarzen.” Both were exceptionally welcome, distinctively German and tasty. Looking at the beer menu, I noticed a beer listed as “alkoholfrei” which means “alcohol free.” When Oliver stopped by our table for a moment, I asked if this might be what he was serving. “I don’t serve such beer here,” he giggled. Then he was off again, making sure each table was as happy as he was. Oliver stopped at every table, often, checking on his guests and making sure they were as happy as he was.
Oliver apologized that we had just missed the harvest of local white asparagus, a delicacy that ends in the middle of June. There was simply no way he would serve this unique vegetable after its time, explaining that the asparagus turned tough and bitter after its peak, and tasted like wood. The harvest season was short indeed, and he wouldn’t risk serving asparagus after June 20th. We were just a couple days late! He had other tasty dishes prepared for us, however, and we eagerly anticipated each one. The asparagus would be something to mark your calendar for, we thought.
Soon he appeared with “Hessiche Leckereien,” a Hessian specialty platter. It consisted of traditional Hessian cheese, two kinds of pickles, sauces, Frankfurt cheese spread, and a selection of sausages. The “Handkäs” (hand cheese) is a traditional Hessian cheese made of sour milk. It got the name from the way of production. The cheese in traditionally formed by hand and is semi strong. Oliver joked that we might discover some lingering effects later. Remembering something called “Leberkase” I had once in a train station, I asked Oliver if one of these cheeses was similar. “In the same direction,” he laughed. As part of this huge appetizer, we were told about the Frankfurt Green sauce, made from sour cream and seven fresh herbs. There was a lengthy story told about how borage, chervil, garden cress, parsley, salad burnet, sorrel, and chive were combined in this unique sauce made on Sunday afternoons by German housewives, looking for remnants to throw together to serve to guests. The sausages, of course, were distinctively German. “The rule is,” Oliver said, “eat the sausage first. Then look at it later!” He galloped off, giggling aloud.
One item we both had on our minds was the Signature Dish known as Kotelette vom Klosterschwein, which is translated Kotelette (or cutlet) of monastery pig. The ham is served in a homemade bread dough made with thyme jus and lentils. The menu warned that the preparation time was thirty minutes, but we thoroughly enjoyed the wait! Our second choice, also confirmed by Oliver, was the Tafelspitz mit Meerrettichsauce, prime boiled beef with horseradish sauce, bouillon potatoes and vegetables. Both dishes consisted of ample servings of delicious German fare at its finest.
After our main courses, Oliver brought out two “digestifs.” “Mispelchen” was an apple-based liqueur served to my wife while I was served the hearty “Alte Zwetschge,” a distinctive, strong liqueur Oliver said required 80 kilograms of plums just to go into one glass!
For dessert we sampled “Zerrissener Apfelpfannkuchen mit Schmandeis,” apple pancake pieces with sour cream ice-cream, and a dish of raspberries. Other offerings were chocolate pudding with vanilla sauce and a dessert variation simply called “That is Good!” What an understatement!
At the end, I asked Oliver how long he’d been working at the Torschänke. “Fourteen years,” he boasted. “And every day I feel like I’m celebrating my birthday!”
Now that’s pure joy!