A few years ago, a casual friend of mine suggested that I try the Black Forest Inn restaurant in Minneapolis, a German restaurant that has been in business for right at 47 years (as of next Tuesday). I kept it on my culinary radar for quite sometime until I had an appointment near downtown Minneapolis one day on a recent trip to the Twin Cities and I decided to find the Black Forest Inn and have a little lunch. I found it on the southeast corner of Nicollet and 26th Ave. just south of downtown and west of I-35W (see map).
Black Forest Inn is located along a mile and a half stretch of Nicollet that is known to the locals as Eat Street. There are literally dozens of restaurants along Nicollet featuring all different types of cuisine, most of them are cheap to moderately priced. Many of the restaurants are Asian-based, but you'll find a number of ethnic-based restaurants of all types along the stretch of Nicollet.
Erich and Gerhard Christ opened the Black Forest Inn on May 15, 1965. It was basically a small bar with an even smaller kitchen where Erich would make a handful of German specialties. Somewhere along the way Gerhard Christ departed and Erich was joined in the business by his new wife, Joanne, whom he married in 1968. In the mid-70's, the Christ's bought the property next to them, a dilapidated old building that they tore down and put in a German style beer garden along side the restaurant.
About 10 years later, the Christ's expanded their restaurant once again to put in an expanded kitchen which included a butcher area and a bakery. Black Forest Inn prides itself in the fact that they make everything on their menu from scratch in their kitchen and bakery. Within the past few years, the Black Forest Inn has added a breakfast menu that includes authentic German-style oven-baked apple pancakes.
It was just after noon when I walked into the restaurant and was greeted by Kelley, a young and cheerful waitress. She asked if I wanted a table or a booth. I went with the booth, which was old and wooden, probably from an old restaurant or pub that were probably moved to the Black Forest Inn a number of years ago. The first thing that struck me about the place was the smell of nutmeg that permeated the air. There's something about nutmeg and German food that I simply love.
The other thing about the place was the amount of artwork, ornate woodwork and antique lights throughout the place. There were two brightly colored antique gas light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, a ceiling that featured some equally brightly colored paneled artwork. From the front of the restaurant, throughout the two dining areas and into the bar, the Black Forest Inn is literally its own art gallery. Click here to learn more about the artwork and decorations throughout the restaurant.
The bar area features a an old wooden bar with a series of etched paneled windows along the back. Glasses hang from the ceiling above the bar and old world beer spigots come up from the front of the bar. The beer garden sits just beyond the bar area. Walking into the bar is like walking into a Bavarian country inn.
One of the most noteworthy pieces of art at the Black Forest Inn is a photograph by the famed portrait photographer Richard Avedon. Avedon was in Minneapolis in 1970 attending a showing of his work at the nearby Minneapolis Institute of Arts and frequented the bar at the Black Forest Inn during his time in Minneapolis. At the end of the exhibition, Avedon presented the Christ's a large photograph that he took of the Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution at a soiree they were attending in Washington, DC about 7 years prior. It surprised the Christ's as they didn't really know Avedon all that well, but they happily hung it on the north wall of the bar.
In 1986, a regular patron of the Black Forest Inn bar, a one Ellis Nelson, had a few German beers to drink one particular day and decided that the photograph annoyed him. He took out a pistol and shot at the photograph three times. Two of the shots hit the photograph - click on the picture to enlarge it - one hit a lady in the back left in the chest, the other hit a lady in the back right just above the eye. The third bullet hit the wall.
Of course, all hell broke loose inside the restaurant and Nelson calmly got up, went to the nearest police station and turned himself in. Nelson was charged with a misdemeanor, fined and had to give up his firearm. When informed of the attack, Avedon was said to be very upset. The Christ's looked into what it would cost to fix the photograph, but when informed the costs would be astronomical, they left it as it is. When Avedon passed away in 2004, the Christ's shrouded the picture with a black sash.
The lunch menu at the Black Forest Inn is basically a condensed version of their dinner menu with a handful of soups, salads and sandwiches added in. I was kind of in the mood for an authentic German dish and they had both a wiener schnitzel and sauerbraten on the lunch menu. They also had a bratwurst entree with the sausages made in house. I took a look at the reuben for a second, but decided that I was getting kind of burnt on reubens as of late. So, it was down to the schnitzel or the sauerbraten. When Kelley came back I mentally flipped a coin and it came up sauerbraten. I also got a side of their red cabbage to go along with the meal. I also got a pint of the Spaten Lager beer with my lunch.
Surprisingly, it wasn't all that busy so it didn't take long before Kelley came out with my food. The ample amount of sauerbraten came with a side of spatzle, made fresh daily, and a generous serving of gravy. I also got a couple of homemade German-style hard rolls with butter. While the beef sauerbraten was very tender, the taste of the meat was bland. Very bland. I couldn't really taste anything in the beef. And I was waiting for the tangy taste of nutmeg or ginger in the gravy, but there was none. It was highly disappointing.
The red cabbage was slightly better, but served at almost room temperature. It wasn't warm at all, but it did have some good flavor to it. It was much better than the sauerbraten, but was also disappointing in that it wasn't served warmer than it was.
I did finish the disappointing sauerbraten, bland gravy and all, and made a serious dent in the red cabbage and some of the spatzle. It's hard to say this, but the highlight of the meal was the Spaten Lager beer. Compared to a number of German restaurants that I've been to over the past few years, Black Forest Inn was at the low end of the scale. I was very disappointed in the food, although the service I received from Kelley was exemplary. It wasn't very busy at the Black Forest Inn during the height of the lunch hour and I wonder if that has anything to do with the food. Even so, the bar area alone would be worth going there for a couple beers and to see the Avedon photograph with the bullet holes and the rest of the artwork the Christ's have on display. I'm not certain I'd get the food.