Remember the Munch Box? Thought not. And that's the concern.
When you're two blocks removed from a main street, nestled on the fringe of a residential neighborhood with a questionable amount of through-traffic, the viability of the location unavoidably comes to mind. Especially when the last year has seen it house a carpet shop, the aforementioned snack bar, and then vacant space.
Newly opened German eatery Ines' Corner Café may have little hope for drop-ins outside of Hancock Avenue commuters. Which is not to say it has little hope, entirely. Nearby is the North End Diner, which has managed 50-plus years — albeit with some visibility from Fillmore Street. In addition, some of the city's other Deutschland dishers aren't highly visible either, but have been successful: Uwe's tucked away on Iowa Avenue, Edelweiss on Ramona Avenue.
So what at Ines' might inspire both the German community and other locals to make this particular drive?
The best answer I found would be Ines and Thorsten Borrmann's rouladen ($10.95); thin-sliced, rolled beef, most notably with a mustard bite beyond the brown gravy accompaniment, served with naked spätzle (egg noodle) strands for the mixing and a delicious, tangy blaukraut (vinegary, braised red cabbage). That, followed by the house apfelstrudel ($4.95), a great doughy (rather than flaky) rendition, with perfect cinnamon hints, a thin, pudding-like vanilla cream sauce, and scoops of vanilla ice cream.
It's textbook traditional German food, most of which rotates through the menu as daily specials, supplementing the always-available Vienna-style schnitzel (breaded pork cutlets with fried onions and gravy on the side; $6.95 with bread, $7.95 with fries or excellent, Eastern European-style potato salad) and brats (same plating and sides; $5.95 to $6.95). The brats come as two American hot-dog-sized strips, grill-marked and enjoyable with an almost Italian-sausage flavor. Our schnitzel cutlet was smaller than most German outfits' and cooked on the tough side.
The Borrmanns keep their Facebook page and website updated with each week's daily specials — curry sausage, soups, potato dishes — and thus may attract repeat customers who specifically seek a certain dish. But on the other hand, drop-ins on a given day really only get three options: the brat, schnitzel or that day's special (like a serviceable but unmemorable macaroni and cheese-like noodle casserole; $6.95), which is pretty limiting.
Well, adults can order American items like a hot dog ($2.85) or corn dog ($1.50) from a kid's menu. Aside from great bread, the hot dog is lame (and we'd actually ordered a hamburger); the corn dog, actually a brat coated in pancake batter, makes for more of a breakfast treat.
The limitations come from the clean but small space: four tables, one counter, one singing bird clock, one set of German market shelves, a kitchen sans hoods (as evidenced by a lingering greasy smoke smell on our clothes) and only the Borrmanns as cooks and servers. It is, in every way, a cute neighborhood café, with super-friendly owners and cultural heart.
Thorsten, when engaged with questions of the couple's former life in Germany, alludes to Ines' East German upbringing (tapping his head and saying, "The Wall is here") and shares culinary details relative to regions. He makes friendly jokes about us ordering from the kid's menu, and his passion is clear.
If the rouladen or strudel don't, maybe that will attract destination diners.