German cafe offers the best of the wurst

Restaurant of the Week: Berlin Inn

When most people are thinking of Germany these days, they're thinking of gooooaaaaal!, Ronaldo or crazed British fans drinking the country dry of beer. But all this World Cup mania put me in a mood for schnitzel, spaetzle and Spaten Pils.

German food hasn't really taken off in the Northwest the way the cuisines have of France, Italy, China, Thailand and pretty much every other place south of Greenland. Its reputation as meat-heavy, sauce-rich and full of carbs, carbs and more carbs doesn't make it a natural fit for Portlanders' health-conscious, veg-laden lifestyles.

But while the Berlin Inn features all the traditional dishes, the soft touch on the sauce ladle, light hand with the breading and plenty of fresh vegetables make it a style of cooking worth exploring even if you think soccer is only slightly less offensive than synchronized swimming.

Incredibly, the fondue isn't too weighty, especially if you choose the vegetable dipping plate, with barely steamed broccoli and cauliflower along with hunks of apple, carrot and bread and a ramekin of thoroughly roasted garlic cloves. There are three choices for the cheese; the cheddar and beer has a fresh, malty, tangy taste that works even on a broiling day (Berlin Inn has a protected outdoor patio -lovely for the 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. happy hour - and powerful air conditioning indoors).

Entrees offer several variations on repeated themes: schnitzels from veal to chicken to eggplant, sausages from bratwurst to weisswurst, tender braised meats like spareribs with a sweet-and-sour sauce (a typical combination in German cooking) and beef goulash.

The side-dish selection allows for the summery possibility of a tart cucumber salad and sweet-and-sour red cabbage. If you're up for something more stick-to-your ribs, the options are big white dumplings (never my favorite); the almost nutty spaetzle, little boiled and fried nubs of dough; plain potato pancakes; or excellent roasted potatoes.

You'll find plenty to choose from on the drink list with its more than 100 German wines and a few dozen German beers.

Germany plays Argentina at 8 a.m. today in a win-or-go-home game (at least it's a short trip), and the German soccer team's fans can find comfort or celebration at the Berlin Inn tonight. If the country really lures you, join the German conversation group that meets there on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 6 p.m.

- Audrey Van Buskirk

3131 S.E. 12th Ave., 503-236-6761, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, also 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, $7.25-$22.50