October 20, 2008
Helmers' is one of the oldest restaurants in Hoboken, dating from the days before WWI when Hoboken was a German-dominated town and a favorite of beer lovers from all over New Jersey.
I first heard about it from Jim B., formerly of Hoboken but now a solid citizen of Mount Laurel. He emailed me soon after discovering this blog: "Helmers is on the corner of 11th and Washington. It looks just like it did in the early 1950's. Food and bar look the same too. We used to get the following:
* Steak sandwiches with tons of butter
* A mustard pickle mixture
* The mother would be by the bar with desserts which always had cake and strawberry. In the 1970's we would take my daughter there and she always had the strawberries. Now she goes back to Hoboken for the dancing and eating."
Well, that sounds pretty good. Hoboken b-&-r known as Downtown Chick told me that it was burned out completely and rebuilt to look exactly as it had. Knowing she was Italian I asked what she ate, and she said, "Steak sandwich, whaddya think? I'm gonna get sauerbraten?"
I met one of those who worked on the restoration and he promised to meet me there for a drink one day. I tried to set it up this weekend, but it didn't happen, and I kept thinking about that steak sandwich.
I slept late this A.M. after my show business adventure, but decided to treat myself after my gym experience on 14th Street. I went into Helmers' and ordered a steak sandwich to go. While waiting, I saw the huge list of beers and observed that the guys at the bar were drinking some light-colored brew out of dainty steins of some kind, with a slice of orange! Never saw that before.
I confess I'm not much on beer, so I wouldn't know. I Googled "slice of orange in beer" and discovered the practice has been encourage by a Coors product which is cloudy in color and said to be enhanced by the taste of orange. These guys were not drinking anything cloudy.
I waited and waited for my order. I checked out the menu and saw that the most German thing was wiener schnitzel, which I love, but there were also some bauernwurst dishes and a wurst platter. I liked the lady behind the counter. It seemed a family kind of place, redolent of beer and kraut. Not fancy like the Elysian, but homey and folksy. The service was very slow for the specialty of the house, and when I got it home, I confess I was underwhelmed. If it hadn't been for the home fries and the buttered toast beneath the slices of not-tender beef I might actually have given Helmers' of Hoboken a bad review.
But I loved the atmosphere and surmised that you don't go there for the food. And when my friend is up for it, I'll go again and drink something German with my wurst platter. Maybe I'll go ahead and put a slice of orange in it.