They had me at “Oma.”
The second item under vorspeisen (appetizers) at Jacoby’s German Biergarten claims their kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) are made “just the way Oma used to with onion and cream.”
For the uninitiated, Oma is German for “grandmother.” And in our family, Oma’s cooking was the gold standard. Even well into her late 90s, weekday dinner visits came with a caveat: “I’m slowing down, so there’s not much.” (Translation: only five courses.)
Close your eyes in metro Detroit and you can run into an Italian joint. Or Thai. Or Lebanese. Not much German comfort food, though.
The legendary places are long gone: The Little Café and Kragers on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit; Kurz Alt Heidelberg further up Gratiot in Mount Clemens. All that’s left are The Dakota Inn Rathskeller and Jacoby’s. (Ann Arbor still has the Heidelberg and Metzger’s.)
Jacoby’s has been serving it up since 1904. That’s when a bartender from the Pontchartrain named Albert Jacoby was asked to take over a place called Jake’s. The Luxembourg native brought along a cook named Mina — then married her, too. The neighborhood was predominantly German, so Mina’s comfort food sold.
Things changed over the years: a Jacoby offspring married an Irish girl; they started serving corned beef. (That the “Irish Mafia” ran the city at the time didn’t hurt, either.) More things changed, including owners. But the German heritage (thankfully) still remains.
So I jumped at the Rindfleisch Rouladen on Jacoby’s menu. It’s thin strips of top round rolled with bacon, onion, celery, carrots, and a pickle.
According to my spouse, Jacoby’s version gets an “8” compared to the family version I occasionally make (that’s still very high praise). We also sampled the weiner schnitzel (pork cutlet) with a side of potato pancakes that absolutely put mine to shame (hey, I can admire greatness). And let’s not forget sides like spaetzle (German egg noodles) and red cabbage.
We didn’t get to other beilagen (sides), including the sauerkraut or the warm potato salad with vinegar and bacon. Or an interesting main dish my Oma never made called Koenigsberger Klopps.
Other items round out Jacoby’s menu. But with all that German heritage around, how could I even consider jalapeño poppers, Buffalo wings, or mozzarella sticks?
Did I mention beer? There’s plenty of choices, including rotating taps and dozens of bottled imports from Germany and Belgium (naturally).
You won’t be knocked out by Jacoby’s décor, but there’s plenty of Old World charm. There’s absolutely no white linen and you might have to sit at a communal table. And yes, the potato pancakes come with delectably chunky applesauce and sour cream on the side in little plastic cups.
But who cares? For under $15, you’re getting solid portions and a taste of German and Detroit history.
And I even saved the “wurst” for last: They’ve got a nice selection of knockwurst, bratwurst, and weisswurst, too.
Bitte (you’re welcome).
624 Brush St., Detroit. 313-962-7067. L & D Mon.-Sat. Open Sun. when major events are happening downtown.