There’s more to German food than lagers and bratwurst—but there’s a shortage of restaurants in New Jersey to help make that fact well-known.
“The German cooking world has really become quite limited,” says Heiner Aichem, chef de cuisine at the Black Forest Inn in Stanhope. “There are some establishments left in [New York City], but for the most part, there are few of us left, even nationwide. Almost all the German chefs I have known either remained in Germany or went back after a time.”
The Black Forest Inn is one of them. The restaurant has been serving so-called “German-Continental” cuisine in Stanhope since 1977, with three generations of family members that have worked there over the decades. Second-generation Heiner Aichem’s parents emigrated from Germany separately and met in New Jersey in the 1960s. “My mother Elke is from the Black Forest region,” he says. “My father Heinz (Heinrich) is from Baden-Württemberg,” about two hours away.
“My parents bought the Black Forest Inn in 1977 from Horst and Paula Bolter,” says Aichem. The Bolters had purchased the space in 1971 when it was the Old Mine Inn, “which dates back to the 1920s. [It] was a stagecoach shop, the type of place one could buy a beer, a shot of whiskey, and play pool.”
A lot has changed thanks to his parents, Heinz and Elke, who found a substitute for her Black Forest homeland in the woodsy Allamuchy Mountain range. When the Aichems bought the restaurant, they “changed the cuisine to German-Continental,” according to Aichem, who started cooking with his father when he was 11. Aichem describes the restaurant’s style as “a reflection of both the regional areas and surrounding influences in Germany.”
That means France and Switzerland, as well as Italy just south and Belgium to the northwest. “Germany is in the heart of Europe, and has influences in cuisine from so many of the countries around it,” says Aichem. In a way, Black Forest Inn’s menu is like a mini-education: yes, you’ll find sauerbraten and massive Bavarian pretzels, but you’ll also find smoked trout with horseradish and venison leberkase (a type of baloney with origins in South Germany) served with onion confit. There’s even flammkuchen, or “German pizza,” as Aichem calls it. “Three cheeses and options of red onion, mushrooms, and [applewood-smoked] bacon.”
“Continental” might not be a sexy culinary term, but in a way it’s what sets Black Forest Inn apart. You’ll find Italian influence in dishes like the housemade wild boar prosciutto with melon, and hints of German hunting culture intermingling with French technique in dishes like buffalo medallions with a juniper-laced gin reduction and classic French veal demi-glace. Braten and beer might be our knee-jerk understanding of German food, but the larger cuisine is far more gratifying.
Aichem refers to himself as a “Jersey boy at heart with a German soul,” and he’s doing his part for the future of German cuisine in New Jersey. His sons started working in the kitchen at 14 and 15 years old. Each have 10 years of experience by now, and Aichem’s daughter “proudly says she’s known proper wine service since she was 10.”
Seasons like Oktoberfest do help dial up interest. “Our business during Oktoberfest increases 50 to 60 percent.” But after the celebration ends, the Black Forest Inn will continue cooking, catering, even prepping for lesser-known German holidays like Fasching, “a Mardis Gras-type carnival held the week before Lent,” and Maifest, “a German festival to welcome Spring.”
By all means, enjoy Oktoberfest (Black Forest has a menu here). Just don’t put your stein away just yet.
The Black Forest Inn is located at 249 Route 206 in Stanhope. 973-347-3344Click here to leave a comment