"When Germans visit the United States, the brats, vinegary potato salad and astringent sauerkraut they find in our “German” restaurants can cause them some cultural dissonance. Just as Germans aren’t limited to lederhosen and dirndls, Oktoberfests and World Cup soccer debauchery, their tastes aren’t limited to these gut-busting, beer-friendly dishes. Their cuisine, they’ll point out, is as diverse as any other European country, with French influences and plenty of international flavors such as Greek, Indian and Thai in every other part. They’ll tell you that stands offering Turkish döner kebabs — what we’d call gyros — outsell hamburger chains two to one.
For German-Americans who emigrated decades ago, dishes like red cabbage, schnitzel and Black Forest cake are exactly what will transport them back to their childhoods growing up in Düsseldorf, Munich, or Schwarzenbach am Wald. At least Chris and Jacqueline Belus-Kauth, who opened Inge’s German Market on 116th Street in Fishers just two months ago, haven’t been getting many complaints. Their deli and European food emporium cum kaffeeklatsch-friendly café has been filling up most afternoons with hordes of happy customers — many of them speaking German. In the minds of these diners, Inge’s is expanding German culture in the middle of America, not limiting it.
Named for Jacqueline’s mother Ingeborg Belus, a German-born restaurateur who with husband and chef Robert Scherer logged over two decades in the restaurant business, Inge’s seeks to be both a purveyor of previously unavailable specialty meats, cheeses and pastries as well as a place for folks to linger over a light lunch or heartier fare they may have grown up eating in the old country. Colorful wall murals hung with flowers and metal fencing hearken to the German countryside where such rustic, traditional dishes were first concocted.
Cozy, yet streamlined, the place offers just a few tables, a counter and cases of pastry items, cheeses, crackers and cookies — most at the ready for guests to help themselves. While the selection is somewhat small right now, Jacqueline, who spent her first 10 years in Germany herself, says she’s always happy to special order an item, especially for a catering event or when she knows there will be a market for it. Service is typically by committee, and while staff can sometimes get distracted by the crowds, they’re always friendly and ready to meet just about any request.
Sandwiches dominate the modest menu, everything from a schnitzel sandwich born-and-bred Hoosiers will recognize as very close to their own tenderloin to more indigenous German meats and spreads such as spicy mettwurst and dark, smoky Westphalian ham. A short list of entrées offers more substantial plates for healthier appetites. A cold cut plate ($10) allows you to sample the wealth of meats available at the deli counter — all made in Germany and distributed to Inge’s through Chicago.
Sandwiches are less Dagwood-style and more the kind that really allow you to taste the flavorful meats and homemade breads. Don’t expect the Reuben ($7.95) to be a gooey, cheesy number fresh from the griddle. With a modest amount of sauerkraut, a lighter than Thousand Island sauce and a surprising addition of bacon on lightly toasted bread, this will hardly put your figure at risk. On a second visit, a request for a truly authentic sandwich was met by a tasty, off-the-menu snack of goose liver spread with mustard and sauerkraut on marble rye bread.
You won’t want to miss the yeasty, slightly sweet raisin bread chockfull of fruit and nuts. You can take home a loaf for the next day’s breakfast for just $4.
The Jäger schnitzel ($11.95) reminds you that Germans traditionally eat their biggest meal at midday. You’ll hardly need supper after this huge platter of food. This surprisingly meaty pork cutlet was perhaps better the first day, with a richer sauce with bits of beef in it, as well as wonderfully fresh peas and earthy brown mushrooms. On the second visit, the schnitzel was a bit drier, the sauce not quite as flavorful. But on both occasions, we were surprised at how light this German standard was without any of the typical grease. Potato salad is also less heavy than you’d expect, and red cabbage is sweet without the often caustic bite of some versions.
The Black Forest cake at Inge’s is not to be missed. A huge slice ($3.50) with moist, spongy chocolate cake enrobed in a super thick whipped cream frosting with quite fresh tasting cherries will help you remember your days in Germany even if you’ve never been. An authentic apfelkuchen or apple cake ($2/slice) is less elaborate but no less comforting. In a state so heavily settled by Germans, it’s surprising so little German food is available. But Inge’s is doing its part to add reverence and respect to this venerable cuisine.
Inge’s German Market
8395 E. 116th St., Fishers
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Food: 3 1/2 stars
Atmosphere: 3 1/2 stars
Service: 3 1/2 stars