Every year the various “best of ABQ” restaurant polls come out, all with some variation of “what style of restaurant would you like to see here?” Personally, I put down “German” every year, but the hipsters always want Ethiopian, because they’re hipsters and German is so 19th Century or something like that. (Oh, go cry in the closed kitchen at Blackbird, hipsters, and stay away from our beer!) Anyway, I was thankfully not the only person to realize the ABQ had a big old culinary hole in its heart. But what goes better with German food than German beer? With that thought also in mind, Heimat House may become a new go-to haunt for myself and other members of the Crew.
I got to stop by Heimat House on Monday afternoon while they were going through all the final preparations before opening for dinner at 5 p.m. Now, finding Heimat House was fairly easy for me, but just in case your Google or Apple Maps let you down, it’s located just southwest of the Louisiana-Montgomery intersection. It’s at 6910 Montgomery NE on Georgia, a block west of Louisiana, less than a block south of Montgomery, located behind the Spin Cycle laundromat. It’s in a building that has been many restaurants in the past, including Liquid Assets, but hopefully Heimat House will become a permanent fixture.
Heimat House co-owners Carri Phillis and her boyfriend Blayne Hare welcomed me amid the somewhat chaotic final preparations. Starting Tuesday, Heimat House will be open at 11 a.m. for lunch on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The restaurant will probably close between 9 and 10 from Monday through Thursday, though it can stay open till 11 if there are still enough paying customers inside that late, Carri said. It will be open till 11 on weekends.
The menu is loaded with German dishes, plus dishes from Poland and Hungary. And thanks to the big wood oven, there will be a few pizzas and calzones for those who aren’t willing to go for the more Central European food. Personally, though, if the schnitzel is good, I don’t need anything else. (Full disclosure: When my dad was in the Army we lived in Augsburg, Germany, from 1980 to ’83, and I probably ate my body weight in schnitzel several times over.) The inspiration to create a German restaurant came from both Carri’s upbringing overseas and a recent trip that she and Blayne undertook.
“We went to visit my parents in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and he had never been,” Carri said of a trip during Thanksgiving 2013. “It was about halfway through our trip, we were there for a couple weeks, we’d had German food every single day. I was like, ‘Don’t you want something else?’ He was like, ‘Nope, can’t have it back home.'”
Carri, who owns Effex Nightclub and Cafe Adieux downtown, said she had long wanted to open a full restaurant. Now she had a legitimate idea.
“I’m very blessed with Effex, it’s very unique,” she said. “So if I ever did a restaurant I wanted it to be very unique. He loved the food, I loved the food, of course, I was born and raised on it. We started talking about it and one day I just looked at him and said, ‘So I’ve found a place where I want to open a restaurant. Is that OK?'”
Though initially Carri and Blayne felt they could open quickly as the restaurant space seemed to be ready to go, they ultimately decided it needed some fixing and sprucing up. A little paint here, some new wood paneling there, and soon a renovation of the interior was underway.
“We did not do any structural (work) or any major overhaul at all, it was just making this place what it is now,” Carri said. “We wanted it to be perfect. With Effex you walk in and don’t feel like you’re in Albuquerque. And here I want you to walk in, we both do, we want you to feel like you’re in a restaurant in Germany.”
Carri was born in Heidelberg, Germany, when her father was serving in the military. Her favorite dish back then was currywurst, a sliced red sausage with curry tomato sauce.
“As a kid, I remember eating currywurst all the time,” she said. “Seriously, we got off the plane and the first thing I was like I want currywurst. It’s a street food. We put it on the menu here. There’s a schnitzel house in Heidelberg that has 100 different styles of schnitzel. We only have three. That’s where the German food came from, it’s the stuff I grew up eating.
“Blayne has a very good friend that he’s worked with before who’s Polish. And his wife is also Polish. So she came over a few months ago and taught me a bunch of her mother’s recipes. So those are the Polish dishes you see on there.”
The food certainly looks good, though I only got to try a small a bite of the raspberry cream roulade, a tasty Hungarian dessert. I will have to go back for a full meal. (Yes, of schnitzel. I am a creature of habit with food.)
But as noted above, nothing goes better with German food than German beer, and Heimat House has that covered as well. There will be 30 beers on tap, some of which you can’t even find in bottles at Total Wine, and once another cooler is installed, 60-plus bottled beers will also be available.
“From day one when we talked about it, if we were going to do this and put our blood, sweat, and tears into it … as much as I love beer, he researched beer,” Carri said of Blayne. “When we stared this and got into it, there were six taps from the previous restaurant. So I told him I wanted 20.”
“A distributor came in and we were brainstorming,” Blayne said. “We looked at the size of the walk-in. We figured we could cram in eight (kegs). She wanted 20 and we thought we could get 12 total. We looked at and realized we could expand the walk-in. We got it to where we could easily fit in 20, and then we were able to fit in 30.
“But when it came time to make the decision, we don’t know what we would have done with 20 or 15. It was hard enough to narrow the list down to 30.”
The initial tap list includes 12 German beers, seven Belgians, eight microbrews from around the U.S., and three local taps (La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, Marble’s Double White, Bosque’s Oktoberfest).
“At first we had distributors that were like you can’t get that here,” Carri said. “So Blayne started calling importers directly, figuring out who brought what into the United States. As soon as we found the closest place, we would hand it to the distributor.”
Bitburger Pilsner, though seemingly available in cans at most liquor stores, was supposedly not available for draft anywhere in the country. Heimat House, though, was able to track it down and it will be on tap. Toss in Erdinger Weissbier, Hofbrau Original and Marzen, Andechser Vollbier Hell, Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel, Paulaner Hefeweizen, Krombacher Dark and Pils, Spaten Optimator, and Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse and Grodziskie, and Heimat House’s German beer selection is unmatched in New Mexico.
“We wanted this to be something unique and as authentic as you could possibly do it,” Carri said.
Carri said she felt Heimat House had to “pay homage to the local folks” by including Bosque, La Cumbre, and Marble. They will be joined by national craft beer favorites like Odell, Deschutes, North Coast, Rogue, Oskar Blues, and Widmer Bros. Blayne added that Deschutes’ The Abyss will be on tap for the first time in New Mexico when it comes to Heimat House in the near future. There will eventually be beer happy hour specials, including tasting flights, though it will be a little while down the line until special glassware arrives, Blayne said.
Now, back when we first heard of Heimat House earlier this year there was talk that they would be a full brewpub, with their own Germany-style beers being brewed in the back. That plan is on hold, but not out of the realm of possibility in the future.
“It was initially a huge then because when we walked in, there was a brewery on that side (the east part of the building),” Carri said. “There was a ton of infrastructure. I was excited. Then one day I came in and it was gone. And I was really upset with him.”
Blayne, however, upon closer inspection had realized something about the leftover brewing equipment.
“From the initial look of it, everything was seemingly in place,” he said. “But once you got up to the ceiling everything was cut off. It really wasn’t able to work.”
Carri said her initial plan was to send Blayne’s brother, Austin, to Europe to learn how to brew for six months and then bring him back. Without any usable equipment, though, everything was moved to the back burner.
“So it is not out of the question, whatsoever, but we really need to focus on this (the restaurant) for a while and go from there,” Carri said. “But that is (still) on the table, for sure.”
Until then, we in the Crew are pretty sure we can live with the hard-to-get German and craft beers on tap. ABQ has been overdue for this kind of restaurant/beer bar. Danke, Heimat House, for giving us exactly what we need.