Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rolf's German Restaurant: Four Wursts, No Waiting


By Mitch Broder

Today’s forecast for New York City is scorching and stifling.

Will you be having the weisswurst, the knackwurst, the bratwurst, or the smoked bratwurst?

Didn’t think so. And you’re not alone — which is why Bob Maisano often is.

Bob is the owner of Rolf’s, an old-fashioned German restaurant that serves old-fashioned German food, which is not light summery fare. In the fall people line up here for the bodily insulation, and for the dazzling Christmas lights. In July you can hear the sauerkraut settle.

“When people think of German, they think of Bavarian, which is what we are,” Bob reflected one afternoon when I stopped in for air-conditioning. “You have your sauerbraten, your schnitzel, your sausage, your potato pancakes. And people go to outdoor cafés in the summer, and we don’t have one.”

Having one might help. But probably not. Then you’d be out of the air-conditioning with your rahm schnitzel in cream sauce. The irony is that the inside of Rolf’s looks like an outdoor café. It’s the Bavarian Forest with fake oak leaves, and a choice of table or booth.

Still, it’s a place for the cold months, even without the wursts and potatoes; other entrées include beef stew, grilled rib eye, roast pork loin, and braised chicken leg. Then again, there’s baked tilapia, sautéed salmon, and rainbow trout, along with Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. On tap.

And peace and quiet.

Yes, that's a person at the end of the bar.
Rolf’s is the kind of place that seems quiet even when it’s noisy. The clientele is mature, the music is soft, and there’s no TV. “I don’t want any bickering here over what channel to put on,” Bob says. “People come in here to eat dinner, and it would interrupt their conversation.”

That’s also why the German theme ends with the menu and the oak leaves. There’s no oompah band playing beer songs and Bavarian marches. The staff is not clothed in dirndls, trachten socks, and lederhosen. “It’s not all that necessary,” Bob says. “Unless you’re at Disney World.”

When Rolf’s debuted, however, there was no Disney World. So for a while its founder, Rolf Hoffman, picked up the slack. He opened in 1968 with theme detail Bob calls “hardcore.” Rolf died in 1981. Bob took over with a partner, Ben House.

Ben died in 1996, and Bob has run things since. He keeps feeding the Christmas display, which now threatens the ones on Fifth Avenue. In summer, he still has his regulars. And he has some free time.

He cleans.

He changes the oak leaves.

He keeps your wiener schnitzel warm.


Spread out at Rolf’s German Restaurant, 281 Third Avenue, at 22nd Street, in Manhattan.


  1. This place looks excellent for a field trip in January! Potato pancakes and apple sauce is heaven.

  2. Who cares what season? It sounds GOOD! I don't eat light fare in the summer. I like to eat! And I like Bob. Because I DON'T like TV when I eat either. Don't mind a little German mood music in the background though. Let's go! It doesn't have to be winter to eat potatoes.
    Love them, love them, all year 'round.
    Also love..."And you’re not alone — which is why Bob Maisano often is." and "He changes the oak leaves."
    Keep 'em coming, Mr. B!