Monday, October 20, 2008

My Date at Helmers'

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.


Alex said...

Try the burger. Its one of my all time favorites and I love burgers!

Anonymous said...

Some 10 years ago I stopped at HELMERS to eat, returning from a funeral in the Bronx. I double parked my car on 11th street outside Helmers'. A valet boy took my car and vanished with it, returning in just minutes. Where he parked it is still a mystery.

When done eating I asked for my car. IN A FLASH he returned with it...I TIPPED HIM...and I'm still wondering where he parked it. They must have a super secret parking place for Germans. I looked around. NO PARKING ANY PLACE. The food was good. The beer was great.

I still wonder what did he do with my car ..????

Anonymous said...

I haven't been there in over 40 years but, when I worked near there, we used to go for lunch on Wednesday when the owner would make the most delicious applie pie & served with whipped cream. We'd have something light to eat - like a shrimp cocktail - and then the apple pie. It was soooo yummmmmy!!!!! The steak sandwiches were very good in those days - that was the most popular dish to order.

Anonymous said...

WHY in the hell did you get a steak sandwich with BUTTER to go?
Between 11 & Wash. and 9th & Willow the steak will continue to cook & probably be lukewarm. Next time eat it there.

Sorry I missed the performance.

Mary Lois said...

So who knew? It was my first time with the steak sandwich. I didn't know it wouldn't travel particularly well. The butter wasn't a problem, but the fact that it wasn't hot was. I shouda stood at the restaurant!

Next time I'll know better. I was alone, I was in my gym attire, and I wanted to go home. Not the way to enjoy Helmers'-- I'm still finding myself here.

Anonymous said...

Oh I am SO VERY HAPPY you are learning to speak good hoboken/english.

You make me proud.

Mary Lois said...

Fuggedaboudit--I have good teachas.

Anonymous said...

The fruit in the beer is not a Coors thing, it is a German thing that was served at Helmers for years. They put a raspberry syrup or orange syrup into a wide glass of a tart beer. Never enjoyed it myself and Helmers is the only bar in US that serves it that way. (At least that I know of)

At Helmers, there never was a dress code. You would often see the following, teachers, men in blue uniforms from Maxwell House Coffee, young couples, and usually at the bar there were a few people you knew and some you had no idea about.

Jerry Andersen said...

I like German food. I was grilling some brats in Maine one day when a seagull swooped down and took one. That is what I would call a tern for the wurst.

Mary Lois said...

And that may be the wurst joke I ever heard.