Every growing season, Bruno Tomaszewska heads to Duris Farm in Puyallup and returns with buckets. And buckets. And more buckets of cucumbers.
Last season, he bought enough to pickle more than 500 gallons to use in the pickle soup, hangover soup and beef rouladen at his German-Polish restaurant, Bruno’s European Restaurant.
And that’s not the only item Bruno and wife Krystyna insist on making by hand, which is an elaborate undertaking considering the Lakewood restaurant seats 118 and seems perpetually busy, something that’s courtesy of a high-profile appearance in a 2013 episode of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
From the handmade category, there’s the hand-stuffed farmers cheese pierogi. The schnitzel is hand pounded every morning. That terrific cucumber salad with the paper-thin slices? Bruno tastes every batch to ensure its dressing intersects the perfect balance of sweet to sour.
It’s that attention to detail and the restaurant’s consistent execution that leads me to give the restaurant my highest recommendation a little more than six months after moving to its new location from its smaller 66-seat restaurant in Parkland, which Bruno and Krystyna opened in 2011. Before that, they operated a tiny four-table restaurant, that also was in Lakewood.
Bruno’s success is in its uncomplicated format. “It’s very simple, very homemade food,” is how Krystyna describes the menu of German, Polish and other Eastern European dishes.
Plates come piled with food prepared with little fussiness in plating or garnish. It’s a homey style that makes some diners nostalgic for their oma’s home cooking.
The restaurant, too, is quite simple. The soaring, v-shaped ceiling pays homage to an expansive German beer hall (minus the communal seating).
Two dining rooms are broken by a hostess station (that I’ve never seen occupied). Well-spaced tables and booths veer to the left. A fireplace flanks the dining area to the right.
Nods to Germany are sprinkled throughout — from a row of beer steins on a shelf up high to pictures of German landscapes and a shadow box filled with dried Edelweiss.
If I could make any change to the restaurant, it’d be that the restaurant staff the host station for better traffic control. On each of my four visits since the restaurant relocated, I waited — and waited — for busy staffers to acknowledge my party’s entry. However, once seated, the service was always friendly — and oh so fast.
Bruno’s might be the only restaurant where you’ll spend more time waiting for a table than for the food. While table waits could extend 20-30 minutes, the first course never took more than 15 minutes to arrive, and service always came with a smile — and an apology when dishes were forgotten (an occasional occurrence).
The menu lists soups, sandwiches, smaller homestyle international specialties and heartier entrees served at both lunch and dinner.
Soups are a terrific introduction ($3.50 cup/$6.50 bowl). Those housemade dill pickles show up in Saturday’s soup special, a sour pickle and vegetable soup with a light broth and heavy helping of dill. Goulash, a daily offering along with the pickle-studded hangover soup, was brilliant orange from paprika and loaded with hunks of beef. Mushroom soup, another soup-of-the-day offering, was the tangy offspring of stroganoff, with meaty slices of mushroom in a sour cream base. A crusty roll and pat of Darigold butter always come on the side.
Find the best bargains on the international menu — specifically frikadelle and meatloaf. Frikadelle ($8.50), a ground beef dish that’s like a German meatball, was shaped and sized like a baseball, with a creamy mushroom gravy and sauerkraut that tasted long simmered with pork. Meatloaf came in an eyes-bigger-than-stomach portion of two (and sometimes three) slices, coated in the glossy brown house gravy, a choice of salad and a scoop of waxy mashed potatoes ($7.50).
Meatloaf also showed up as a lunch special, served Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m, on a menu of six dishes priced $8.50-$9.50 (with soup, roll and sides with some).
Don’t miss the Reuben sandwich ($9.50), served on caraway-spiked rye with house-roasted corned beef cut into thick pieces with plenty of chewy tug, finished with Swiss, meaty-tasting ’kraut and a swipe of Russian dressing.
From the heartier entree menu, pick the Polish platter ($14.95) on a first visit: Hand-crimped pierogi dumplings filled with tangy farmers cheese, flanked by the tomato-sauce topped cabbage roll filled with fluffy rice and savory ground pork, an unctuous Kielbasa link and a scoop of potatoes.
Kassler rippchen ($16.95) was a smoky, bone-in pork chop, garnished with grilled apples and onions. Bruno’s Schnitzel ($15.95) came with a nearly plate-sized pounded pork cutlet, jacketed in a crunchy pan-fried breading. Jäger schnitzel ($16.95) was the same cutlet, but with a blanket of creamy mushroom-onion gravy with a beefy backbone. Smoked ham hock simmered with kraut ($17.95) was served in a portion sized for two meals of leftovers. Beef rouladen ($17.95) was a braised beef roll, filled with house pickles, bacon and onions.
A choice of salad and a potato-based side are included with almost every entree. For salads, the sweet-sour cucumber is just as delicious as the equally puckery-sweet red cabbage salad (both served cold). Sauerkraut, served warm, changes slightly from visit to visit, but I prefer it when the cabbage tastes like it has been slow cooked with pork.
I always pick the sticky potato dumplings with an indented center (perfect for holding the house brown gravy) over the spaetzle noodles, which are delicious, but in want of more spring in the texture. I also prefer the chilled potato salad, dressed with a delicate vinaigrette, to the pureed potatoes.
Save room for dessert. The restaurant works with four pastry chefs to provide desserts, including traditional German desserts such as bienenstich ($5.50), the sticky layered honey cake, and a soft strudel filled with apples and topped with a warm vanilla sauce.
German wine with dessert? You bet. There’s liebfraumilch, riesling, auslese or spätlese ($6 a glass, $24-$49 a bottle).
More than 25 beers are served by the bottle or on tap ($4-$7). Find the usual brew suspects from Germany, such as Paulaner, and also a half dozen other German selections, but also beers from Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, Holland and the Czech Republic.
Draft beer is served in smaller glasses or towering liter steins — Oktoberfest style.
And speaking of Oktoberfest, the restaurant will again host a party Oct. 14-15.
Bruno’s European Restaurant
Where: 10902 Bridgeport Way SW, Lakewood; 253-719-7181 or brunoseuropeanrestaurant.com.
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Recommendation: Highest recommendation given, with few issues noted.
Wine/beer: Among the best selection of Eastern European beer in the region, with more than 25 choices, and a small list of German wine.
Noise: Tolerable, even at capacity.
Access: No barriers noted.
Parking: Tight when the restaurant is at capacity.