When you sit down for dinner at Cypress Nook Bavaria Haus Restaurant — a charming little German-American restaurant in Pompano Beach — and spot curry on the menu, it could throw you off-guard.
That is, if you aren't familiar with Germany's traditional plebeian dish of sliced pork sausage drenched in a curry-spiced tomato sauce. A longtime fast-food favorite on the streets of Berlin, let it be known that Cypress Nook's Berliner curry wurst platter is indeed as German as a hamburger is American, pizza is Italian, or fish and chips is British.
Let it be known that Cypress Nook's Berliner curry wurst platter is indeed as German as pizza is Italian.
Often highlighted on Cypress Nook's specials board but always available on the regular menu are several wurst platters. The Berliner curry is especially good, the restaurant's take on an authentic German red curry sauce made the blue-collar way, with organic ketchup laced liberally with paprika, cayenne pepper, onion, curry powder, and slivers of sweet pineapple. Blended into a pasty sauce, the ingredients work together in a plucky way for a substantially milder, sweeter take when compared to their Indian and Thai counterparts.
Not everyone agrees on what makes the perfect curry wurst, a dish that originated in the late 1940s, when — according to curry wurst legend — a German housewife traded liquor for English curry with British soldiers and began serving her secret recipe from a street cart. These days, there are many different versions. Some like it sweet, the way it's served at Cypress Nook; others prefer it with a touch of German mustard for added texture; and still others will tell you that using ketchup over the traditional stewed tomatoes is not only inauthentic but sacrilegious.
Despite the various techniques, such is the dish you'll find on the menu at this German haunt, a sort of hideaway spot that has been serving the quiet neighborhoods of Pompano Beach for more than three decades. The home-like establishment was founded by German immigrants Peter and Ilse Wettengel, who worked together to create a menu of American and German comfort food served for breakfast and lunch seven days a week.
Originally from Pirmasens, a German town near the border with France, Peter immigrated to the United States in 1962 and lived in Staten Island, where he ran a butcher shop. In 1976, he moved to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and opened the First Floor Restaurant, a small breakfast and lunch establishment at the base of the landmark KenAnn Building at Oakland Park Boulevard and North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. It was here he met his future wife and fellow German immigrant, Ilse — known to many as Oma, or "Grandma" — who began working for him as a server during his first year.
In 1979, the couple relocated the business to Pompano Beach and renamed it Cypress Nook, tucked away on a quiet stretch off McNab Road beside a canal branching off from the Stranahan River, which empties into Lake Santa Barbara a few miles east. Not much has changed over the past three decades, according to Ilse's son Michael Gerike, who explains that the restaurant — so named for the cottage's nook-like location behind an old Cypress tree out front — has always had its own brand of gemütlichkeit, or German spirit of coziness.
After his stepfather's passing in 1994, Gerike stepped in to help Oma run the restaurant. Five years ago, he introduced a dinner menu, available Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. and offering many of his mother's specialities. There's her chilled German cucumber salad served with a light creme and vinegar dill dressing; a homemade käse spätzle; three types of schnitzel; and — of course — that curry wurst.
During a busy Sunday brunch, the restaurant's small dining room, which offers a glimpse into the country-cottage kitchen, will turn over tables from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., patrons spilling out onto the patio, where several tables sport giant colorful umbrellas. Nearby residents walk in with dogs and kids in tow, while others vie for parking along the narrow street. They come for plates overflowing with oversized three-egg omelets, thick slabs of cinnamon raisin French toast, and piles of blueberry and banana pancakes served with hash browns, home fries, or grits.
Come lunch, standard American dishes like the hearty eight-ounce Black Angus burger, turkey club sandwich, or caesar salad can be ordered alongside bowls of homemade goulash or pairs of wursts and kielbasa imported from a Brooklyn butcher — the same one the Wettengels have used for 30 years.
"Peter originally opened this restaurant as a breakfast and lunch spot, which explains why there are so many American menu items," says Gerike. "Germans aren't big on breakfast, and he knew if he wanted to succeed, it couldn't just be German food."
In the past few years, however, the dinner menu has become the most German part of Cypress Nook. While you'll be able to find standard picks like wurst, braten, and schnitzel, you can also find more culturally arcane dishes like schweinshaxen (a two-pound Bavarian-style pork shank served in a pool of savory brown gravy) or hackbraten (a German-style meatloaf smothered in brown mushroom gravy and caramelized onion).
The most ubiquitous appetizer, a jumbo-sized Bavarian pretzel, is touted as an imported specialty, as are a half-dozen German biers, including a sweet grapefruit-spiked Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen. The pretzel arrives piping hot and dangling from a peg on a tall wooden contraption, above a small jar of sweet mustard. It took only ten minutes for it to bake, but it takes several more to cool down before it's cool enough to coax off the stand and onto your plate, dripping shards of salt meant to cut through the lye coating that gives pretzels their tawny "skin" and flavor. Try ordering yours with the German bier cheese dip or you might begin to wonder if they exist only as a tactic for ordering more beer.
Wiener schnitzel — breaded and fried cutlets of chicken, pork, or veal — are prepared three ways at Cypress Nook. Jager is the most popular, meat paired with a mushroom, shallot, bacon, and onion-infused gravy. Zigeuner style is lighter, a Spaten beer-based gravy with red and green peppers. The Holstein is the heartiest of all, a choice of anchovy- or caper-spiked gravy served over cutlets topped with a sunny-side-up fried egg.
Each entrée comes with a choice of two sides — but these are sides that will no doubt make the meal, everything from Oma's homemade sauerkraut and German potato salad to soft-boiled green beans and brown-sugar-and-butter carrots. For an extra $1.50, you can upgrade — and you should — to the spätzle, thick noodles made from wheat flour and egg and found across Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary. They arrive on your plate looking less like noodles and more like large, curd-like nibs pan-fried in butter until the edges char up golden and the center becomes a chewy dough.
Oma's red cabbage — otherwise known as rotkohl — is a good choice for those who find sauerkraut too strong. Sweeter and less pungent, the vinegar-and butter-braised cabbage is the perfect pairing for Cypress Nook's beef rouladen, thin slabs of meat rolled and stuffed with pickles, bacon, and butter-braised onion and blanketed with a velvety, brown, spicy mustard sauce.
The potato pancakes that come four to an appetizer — or one per side — will steal the show. A starchy mass of fried potatoes, flour, and egg is shaped into a puck-shaped cake, edges seared until they reach a delicate golden brown, oozing a satisfying aroma of oniony tinged carbs. Hats off to the chef who manages to prepare each with a crisp outer layer and molten moist center and without enough oily residue to drown out the flavor — or your appetite.
"Cypress Nook is a family place and a neighborhood spot," says Gerike. "There's really nothing else like it in the area, and maybe that's what's kept us going all these years. That, and some of the best Berliner curry wurst around."