Bruno’s European Café, which I reviewed last April, was a hole-in-the-wall like none I’d ever seen. In a tiny storefront off Pacific Highway Southwest in Lakewood, four tables provided seating for fewer than 18 diners. That capacity can be achieved only with communal seating. The line perpetually snaked out the door. I didn’t mind. It always was worth the wait.
Well, no more. The restaurant is on the move and will reopen today in a Tacoma space about three times the size of its former Lakewood location.
You’d never know Bruno’s old location had a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet. Despite the lack of space, chef/owner Bruno Tomaszewska, with his wife Kristina, produced gigantic German flavors. Think succulent rouladen, hearty goulash, ethereal potato dumplings, spaetzle and latkes. Oh, the latkes.
And don’t forget the cabbage rolls, cucumber salad and red cabbage. I nearly fell off my chair the first time I tried their pickle soup (made with Puyallup Valley-grown cucumbers). There really is a lot to like about this restaurant.
It was the refrigerator space, or lack of it, that prompted the owners to search for something a little more accommodating after a year in their former location.
On Jan. 31, they shut down the Lakewood café and have moved just off Pacific Avenue South and 108th Street South in the location that formerly housed Creole Café (near Frugal’s). Creole Café closed last summer after chef/owner Blandon Dillon died unexpectedly of heart disease July 11. It was Dillon’s family who told the Tomaszewskas about the restaurant availability, Kristina said.
“It has 50 seats, but we will probably do 40 or so seats,” Kristina said when I checked in with her by phone this week. “It’s perfect. We love it, and the kitchen is wonderful. I think the kitchen with the sink area is as big as the whole restaurant at the other place.”
And coming soon to the restaurant: An outdoor beer garden. Stay tuned. I’ll be on top of those details.
Expect to see the same menu of German favorites with other European twists. If you have not yet eaten at Bruno’s, I recommend starting with the goulash, a slow-simmered brown gravy beef stew fortified with onions, porcinis, paprika and cream. Order it with a cabbage roll, which is the item that put the couple on the culinary map when they started selling pork-and-rice stuffed rolls at Tacoma Farmers Market several years ago. It would be a crime against humanity if you didn’t try the potato dumplings with mushroom gravy.
Bruno’s is the first restaurant for the couple in the area, but it’s not their first cooking venture. They owned a restaurant in New Jersey before moving to Lakewood 10 years ago after their son moved his family here. Before that, the couple moved from their native Poland to Germany to Greece to New Jersey (with stops in between). Bruno cooked at many places along the way.
MORE BIG GERMAN EATS: BROWNS POINT DINER
It just goes without saying that German food is difficult to find in South Sound. I can count only a few restaurants that serve what I call authentic German grandma cuisine.
That’s one reason Browns Point Diner in Tacoma is offering a twice-monthly German night featuring the home cooking of Tanja Leek, a native of south Bavaria and fanatic for authentic German eats. Leek – who owns Browns Point Diner with her husband, Shane, and her mother-in-law, Sheila – started cooking her childhood German favorites every other Wednesday about a year ago.
“It’s been crazy, it’s been so busy,” said Leek of the German nights. The next one is March 2, and they follow a pattern of every other Wednesday.
On the menu are what Leek calls her family favorites – schnitzel, goulash, homemade sauerkraut, German fried potatoes and pickled red cabbage, among other specialties. The menu changes every time, but the theme always is homestyle German.
The March 2 dinner will feature Bratwurst with German fried potatoes and housemade sauerkraut.
Of the kraut, Leek said: “I make it with applesauce, sautéed onions, a little bit of broth and spices: thyme, oregano, a lot of caraway seeds, a little bit of a sweet wine, white zinfandel, and I add bacon at the very end. I put apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar in it, too. I let it sit overnight to let the flavors meld.”
Two brats on the kraut with the housemade German fried potatoes will set you back $9.75.
At future dinners, expect to see Leek’s housemade pork schnitzel, her brown-gravy goulash and potato pancakes. Dinners range from $9.75-$12.50. Leek suggested making reservations or phoning ahead to reserve a dinner. They sell out fast.
Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, email@example.com