Off the Beaten Path in Berlin: Rogacki

A wonderfully atmospheric, way off the beaten track, seafood restaurant that is a favorite of Berliners in the know. Lunch tab for three persons, including wine, was $35.

Here's a place you'll not read about in any guidebook. Rogacki has been around since 1928. These days it's an indoor marketplace in a working-class neighborhood, with dozens of stalls selling all manner of produce, meat, fowl, fish, cheeses and baked goods. A kind of blue-collar KaDeWe.

Along one wall is an inexpensive cafeteria-style restaurant. But the place to eat is at the four-sided, stand-up bar in the middle of the great hall—Rogacki's Schlemmerecke. Two chefs/waiters work from its center, serving customers on all sides. The bar can accommodate perhaps five to six customers on each side. And those come in all categories. I stood next to a tall, steel-gray haired bank president type in an immaculate $4000-plus suit. Beyond him was a blue-overalled laborer whose ample red face was a billboard for the Berliner Kindl he drank with his lunch. Across the way, an ancient woman in a thrift store coat and babushka bellied up to the bar.

Our host, a Berliner, ordered for us. With a word from him, a plump but handsome and vivacious blonde woman in a starched apron behind the counter set three large, stemmed goblets in front of us and turned a magnum of white wine upside down over each. No effete pre-taste, no presentation of the bottle. It gurgled out with such a splashing rush I was certain it would overflow, but at the last moment she flipped the bottle upright without a drop spilled. The wine was French, but from where precisely I can't say. The menu said franz. Weisswein, Cachet Vin de table, Blanc de Blanches. Whatever, it was the "house" wine and delicious. It reposed on the counter with bottles of beer and champagne in a huge bucket of ice.

Another nod from our host and the starched lady tossed handfuls of chopped vegetables on the griddle. Over these she poured a broth that made the pile sizzle and steam. Cooking away in one corner of the hot surface was a big mound of half-dollar size slices of potato with bits of bacon.

In the meantime, did we like oysters? Yes. Shortly, we were each sizing up three Austern so fresh they could only have arrived within the hour by Lear jet from the Normandy coast. Perfect.

But back to the griddle. Alongside the vegetables, our chef/waitress laid out a dozen shrimp. The wine was refreshed.

By this time, every inch of all four sides of the bar was occupied by hungry customers. Our server and her male colleague handled all without a ruffle; the pouring, the grilling, the serving, the cashing out. Even when the pace became frantic, she retained a not-a-hair-out-of-place fresh look and kept up a banter with the regulars, including our host.

After a few minutes, the shrimp, the vegetables and some of the Bratkartoffeln were transferred to a plate. To this she added green salad and then over all was ladled a magical white sauce. This was an order for one person which our host wisely knew would be enough for both Liz and me. What comprised the sauce I won't even guess. I can only say it was a marvelous plate of food. Our host dipped into a hearty and absolutely fresh seafood stew, while the banker on my right carefully but relentlessly devoured every morsel of a gigantic, golden-crusted filet of white fish along with a pile of the glorious fried potatoes. That, I thought to myself, is what I'm ordering next time (and there will be a next time, oh yes).

When the idea was first proposed, I was not so keen on standing while eating. But the whole experience was so fascinating, and the food and wine so absolutely delicious, I could have stayed all afternoon.

The prices? Well, it's a real rip-off. The stir-fry dish Liz and I shared was about $9. Nothing on the menu cost more than that, except for lobster which was $15. An order of mussels was $4.50, shrimp cocktail and several soups were in the $3-$4 range. The total bill for the three of us, including at least six glasses of wine, was $34.

Rogacki is about as far off the beaten track as one gets in Berlin. You'll see very few other tourists...other than fellow Gemütlichkeit readers.

Rogacki, Wilmersdorfer Str. 145, near Bismarck Str. U-Bahn Station. —RHB

December 1999