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KLEINER DEUTSCHMANN

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When heading into parts unknown, I like a place that bills itself as "can't miss it." Spying a three-story shingled Victorian house painted fuchsia meant we'd arrived at Kleiner Deutschmann. "It doesn't look very German," my companion worried, casting a questioning look at the erect polar bear that presided over the parking lot. Still, the amplified strains of "O Tannenbaum" were a good harbinger, as was the man who greeted us at the door dressed in German shortie pants held up with festive Alpine suspenders. Clearly the "Willkommen" mat was out.

Just a guess, but I'd say there were about 10 million tchotchkes (two million of them Christmas-oriented) on the walls, shelves and mantles of this converted home: ceramic dogs, beer steins, heavily framed portraits, souvenir plates, vases, yards of holiday swag and twinkly lights and several Christmas trees groaning with ornamentation. And behind this were the equally elaborate bones of the house -- carved dark wood and floral wallpaper so dense and detailed that the depicted hydrangea blossoms appeared to tumble out of the walls. Overwhelming, but it worked: The dining areas were cozy and lively.

The fare here is good, old-fashioned platters of meat, potatoes and vegetables German-style -- jaeger schnitzel, pot roast, German meatloaf, kassler ripchen -- and can be ordered "as is" or as a "complete dinner" for a couple of bucks more. The "complete" option includes soup, dessert and a choice of tea or coffee. Also on the menu labeled "for the less hungry" are several varieties of wurst served with German potato salad and sauerkraut. I ordered the roast pork loin; my companion went for the full sauerbraten meal while promising to share his soup and dessert.

The house soup was a thick cream soup with pureed potatoes and morsels of chicken, the sort of filling pottage that in larger portions could be a meal in itself. Our waitress (like the patron, attired in charming native dress) brought a basket of warm breads, both white and dark, with a small pot of apple butter. The butter tasted of sweet, yet sharp, fresh apples and a good shake of cinnamon.

Our entrees arrived quickly and, as expected, featured ample portions. My piece of roast pork -- that is, what I could see of it buried under a mound of sauerkraut -- had been cut from the full loin and was about three inches thick. To its side lay mashed potatoes that had been scalloped inward, creating a deep reservoir for gravy. The pork with no fixings was a trifle dry, but once mixed with gravy and/or sauerkraut it regained its vitality. The sauerkraut was sharp and tangy, mixed with caraway seeds and chunks of pork that were fall-apart soft from being cooked in the vinegar dressing. My companion's sauerbraten was several thin slices of beef, so tender from its lengthy soaking that no knife was needed. His sides included red cabbage -- shredded thin and cooked in sweet vinegar -- and a seasoned potato dumpling the size of a small fist.

When bells rang from the foyer, another diner and I both exclaimed: "Santa Claus!" No sign of the bearded one, though; it seems whenever a diner orders the massive multi-pound veal shank, a staff member shakes some bells, alerting us all. I had no room left to even think about shanks, but had saved a wee space for my half of dessert.

The dessert tray boasted eight different kinds of cake (including carrot, Black Forest, German chocolate, half-and-half, chocolate orange and chocolate peanut butter) plus apple strudel, cheesecake, rice pudding and brownies. I went immediately for the red velvet cake -- a cake I'd always heard much about, but never tasted. There's an urban legend about unsuspecting patrons at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York being billed for a red velvet cake recipe; others reminisce that red velvet is one of the great lost cakes of the genteel Old South. In any case, I can't recall being offered it before.

It was a very light chocolate layered cake with ample red food coloring so the cake did look like rich red velvet. The intensity of the redness was heightened by the thick white frosting -- a melt-in-your-mouth sweet buttercream. A cup of coffee was the perfect accompaniment.

At last, we trundled out past the seven-foot-high coat rail where no "Kleiner Deutschmann" (little German guy) has ever hung his coat, and bid a cheerful "Auf wiedersehen" to the polar bear in the parking lot. * * *

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