Behind the scenes at new German eatery Gaumenkitzel

By Anna Mindess

Gaumenkitzel, newly opened on San Pablo Avenue.

At 4:30 am, San Pablo Avenue is dark and deserted. But inside the new German bakery-restaurant Gaumenkitzel, the quiet is broken by a pleasant, but insistent thrum as Anja Voth grinds wheat berries into flour. The chef channels her grandmother’s spirit, getting an early start each morning to flake the oats and barley she will include in her hot porridge, granola and muesli, and to mill the wholewheat flour she will bake into rolls and bread.

The light-filled, cheery space, designed by husband Kai Flache, welcomes customers with paint-box colored wooden chairs in red, yellow, blue and green. What is not visible, however, is chef Voth’s time-consuming commitment to make all her ingredients from scratch. A modest note on the menu mentions her dedication to organic, sustainable, local ingredients, inspired by the slow-food movement.

As Voth rolls and kneads her bread by hand, she describes her inspiring grandmother. “She was a smart shopper with that traditional pre-WWII mentality: frugal, practical, seasonal: grow it or make it yourself and don’t waste. For centuries, this is the healthy way people cooked.”

Voth, who lives in the neighborhood and walks to work, definitely outdoes grandma, however, by also producing her own yogurt, jam, mayonnaise, pickles, tomato sauce, and fruit juices, as well as the marzipan (from ground almonds, sugar and rose water) that goes in her Nusskuchen cake.

Frühstück: the gourmet breakfast plate at Gaumenkitzel.

“I like to make things from scratch,” says Voth, “because I can determine their quality and taste”. Her low-sugar jellies come in flavors like ruby grapefruit and thyme, or blood orange and rosemary.

Growing up, Voth was the family’s designated jam-maker drawing from the bounty of their fruit trees. While she was studying linguistics at the University of Hamburg, she polished her culinary skills working as bartender, breakfast cook and pastry maker.

Voth and her husband are gratified that in the eight weeks since Gaumenkitzel has been open, it has already attracted a group of regulars, especially on the weekends when Germans drive in for a classic Frühstück (breakfast). (Gaumenkitzel means palate-pleaser or delicacy.)

The Gourmet Plate provides a taste of everything: three slices of cold meats, a tiny mound of lox, a boiled egg, three kinds of cheese, morsels of fruit, a spoonful of homemade marmalade and a basket of house-milled wheat breads. Satisfying without overstuffing.

For something lighter, try Knuspermüsli, a tasty, light, crispy granola made from oats, barley, puffed rice, almond and coconut. Traditional, healthy Bircher Müsli combines grated apple, oats, caramel cream and toasted almonds.

The lunch menu may offer a bowl of fish soup or orange cauliflower soup sprinkled with sunflower seeds, spinach or endive salad or codcake and kohlrabi. Teatime features several house-made cakes and cookies. The linzer torte — raspberry jam on a crumbly hazelnut cake — comes in a thin slice, which forces you to slowly savor every scrumptious bite.

A thin slice of linzer torte forces you to savor every bite.

A surprise for American appetites may be the menu for Abendbrot, the traditional light evening meal that follows the wise German saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” Supper, served from 4:30-6:30, may include a salad of smoked trout, a cold-cut plate, or beef roulade with braised red cabbage and mashed potato and a fruit dessert like apple compote with whipped cream. Voth recently introduced German beer and organic wine and plans to expand her menu even further.

If your image of “German food” is a stocky stereotype of sausage and schnitzel, you are probably thinking of Southern German cooking. Voth, who grew up in Hamburg, describes Northern German cooking as lighter, with less meat and more fish and bacon.

Another staple of Northern cuisine is mixing fruit with meats. For example, Voth cites a sweet and sour soup with prunes and bacon or a dish combining pears, French beans and bacon. Sounds intriguing, but it’s not available yet, as Voth won’t be making it until green beans are in season. And just wait till you see what she’s planning to do when fresh local berries start arriving….

Gaumenkitzel is at 2121 San Pablo Avenue, open Tues.-Sun 6 am-6:30 pm. (510) 647-5016.

Anna Mindess is a freelance writer and sign language interpreter who lives in Berkeley. Follow her food adventures on her blog, East Bay Ethnic Eats, where this article first appeared, or on Twitter @EBEthnicEats.

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  • Melanie

    I live close to this restaurant and am excited to try it, but I’d love to see more vegetarian/vegan options on the menu.

  • BBnet3000

    I also live close, and also would like to see more vegetarian options.

  • Bryan Garcia

    Thirded on the vegan options, although I dunno how doable that would be for a German eatery.

  • Melanie

    (From a different Melanie): Physically speaking, Gaumenkitzel really is pleasant–it probably feels sunny even on a gloomy morning like today’s–but I was dismayed by the almost minuscule lunch portions of potatoes and fish: nicely done, but not $15 worth of nicely done! (I’d add a vegetable or soup or something.) And $3 coffee: again, good-enough coffee, but not that good.

    I’ll have to try Gaumenkitzel again for the pastry, though.

  • Shekhar

    @Melanie, agreed on the portion/price ratio. Everything tasted really good (especially the banana almond smoothie!). We’ll be back for the bakery counter to give it another shot.

  • Deb

    I’m fourth about the vegetarian options, or lack thereof.
    I had a long discussion with one of the employees about their ingredients. Mostly organic and non-gmo, which is what I want. But, not enough no-meat options. No vegetarian entrees on the menu. Apparently the intent with small portions is to avoid waste. However, with the prices as high as they are, I can’t afford a small cup of soup that comes with only one piece of bread, let alone a small bowl, which would be more substantial, but costs $7.50.
    Nice geometric tiny cookies for a quarter though.

  • Eva Carleton

    There has always been a vegetarian entree on the menu (not vegan). The first month is was creamed spinach, poached eggs and potatoes, and this month it is Kaiserschmarrn (torn apart German/Austrian pancake with raisons). While this may seems strange to American, the Germans/Austrian eat quite a few “Mehlspeisen” (something substantial ususally containing flour, eggs etc. and a little sweet) as main dishes. Since there are only three entrees (meat, fish and vegetarian) it seems to be balanced.

  • Melanie

    Deb says (March 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm):
    “Apparently the intent with small portions is to avoid waste.”

    Now, that’s a new excuse!

    I strongly believe in avoiding waste, but I still don’t like to spend $15.00 on a lunch that might satisfy my 4-year-old grandchild.

  • Chris

    I went twice and the food and atmosphere are great! The pace of things were quite slow both visits. 45 minutes to serve soup, coffee and baked goods is a bit much. I do like the simplicity of the menu and quality of ingredients though.

  • Mitch

    I love eating at this place. There is so much care taken in everything that they do. The food is so fresh that it tastes of itself while being enhanced by subtle flavorings. There is a strong aesthetic at work here both in the truly artisan preparation and beauty of the presentation. It is well worth the price to have such a complete experience. I crave the beef roulade and I highly recommend it.

  • sara

    We went there for breakfast and loved not only the food but the atmosphere. This place radiates care and love for both the preparation of the food and the presentation. Their Bircher Muesli is delicious and not too sweet. You can taste that everything is prepared fresh and the portions are just right. If you value quality over quantity this is a great restaurant and bakery. Their baked goods are delicious and we especially enjoy their bachelor loaf that has the perfect size for a 2-person household.

  • BigWayne19

    ———- you could always ask for seconds . . .