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MARJAN KLEINE POTPOURRI

Berlin Dispatch: Notes on Abundance

If you consider yourself a food fanatic, a food snob, a gastronome, a gourmet, a discriminating eater, and/or someone who believes meat should be tender enough to cut with a butter knife, Marjan Grill is probably not for you.

If you wouldn’t necessarily choose to go to a restaurant that seems to have been written up in the Chinese equivalent of Lonely Planet, or a place that appears to be a required stop on a senior citizen bus tour of Berlin, Marjan Grill is probably not for you.

But if abundance is what you’re after, more specifically abundance of reasonable quality at a reasonable price, then you’ll appreciate Marjan Grill, a 34-year-old restaurant under the Bellevue S-Bahn station in what was once West Berlin, and one of five restaurants recommended to me by a man named Dirk, who has been driving a taxi in Berlin for the past decade.

It would be easy to dismiss Marjan Grill as one of the many Berlin restaurants that belong to the hauptsache satt school of dining, which cater to people who want to get full for as little money as possible. At a hauptsache satt restaurant, a plate of food that costs less than 10 Euros and looks something like this is what most customers expect:

MARJAN KLEINE POTPOURRI

If you’re a mindful eater, or if you have Italian, French, or Japanese roots, you might think hauptsache satt is a barbaric way to approach eating out in an economy as rich as Germany’s. But there’s a history behind this relationship with food, and there are memories attached to it, as anyone who lived through World War II here can tell you:

“My sole concern as I write these lines,” writes the anonymous author of A Woman in Berlin, on April 20, 1945, “is my stomach. All thinking and feeling, all wishes and hopes begin with food…”

70 years later, as I glanced around the patio at Marjan Grill, I noticed that most of the faces looked old enough to have been alive on April 20, 1945. They would have been children back then, of course, but still — they had endured a historical trauma, not to mention a hunger, that I will probably, hopefully, never experience in my lifetime. How could that deprivation not mark your taste buds for life? Wouldn’t you rejoice, too, every time someone served you a platter of meat you could actually afford?

This is Marjan Grill’s Zigeuner Teller (Gypsy Plate), a politically incorrect pile of overcooked beef and pork with a delicious slab of grilled speck.
This is Marjan Grill’s Zigeuner Teller (Gypsy Plate), a politically incorrect pile of overcooked beef and pork with a delicious slab of grilled speck.

Abundance isn’t Marjan Grill’s only virtue, though — and I’m not just saying that because of the thoughts the restaurant provoked, nor because Dirk recommended this place and I want it to be good.

For one thing, they mix their own Berliner Weisse, instead of serving you the over-sweetened, premixed version of a beverage the German Beer Institute describes as “a sour, tart, fruity, highly effervescent, spritzy and refreshing ale brewed only in Berlin.” To drink Berliner Weisse here, at a patio table under a cluster of linden trees next to the S-Bahn tracks, feels almost poetically appropriate.

MARJAN BERLINER WEISSE

Then there’s the salad that comes with almost every meal, which might look too pale to be inspiring, but whose cabbage and green beans (hiding beneath the cucumbers) have been pickled to the point of perfect sourness, which can mask the deficits of a slightly dry, under-seasoned cevapcici sausage or a tough pork medallion.

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In the end, though, there are two things I like most about Marjan Grill: the chili-onion relish in the stainless steel pitcher they serve with your salad, and the complimentary Kruškovac (pear-flavored firewater) they bring you in individual perfume-sized bottles, just before they bring the bill.

MARJAN CHILI SAUCE

The relish punches up the flavor of everything it touches and reminds you that this is, after all, a Croatian restaurant (a detail you could easily forget, given the length and breadth of, and absence of Balkan desserts on, the menu): they’re not about to dumb down their hot sauce.

And drinking that Kruškovac in this particular way, besides bringing to mind hilarious scenes in a Kusturica movie, transforms lunch from a meal into a celebration—however you feel about quantity versus quality, whatever your relationship to abundance.

MARJAN SCHNAPPS

Marjan Grill
Stadtbahnbogen 411, 10557 Berlin – Bellevue
Tel. 030 3914976
Open: 7 days, 12pm-12am

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2 comments

  1. As always, a very entertaining review. I like the fact that you’ve noted it’s a favorite of Chinese tourists.

    I am reminded of a restaurant in New York, in Yorkville on the Upper East Side, called Mocca, a mittleuropean place that dished up food in grim abundance, a favorite of my mother-in-law.

    Here’s description from the NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/26/nyregion/thecity/26hung.html?_r=0

    • H.D., thank you for reading and for sharing and for the link to the Times article. It’s so sad that Mocca closed. Maybe Marjan is its surviving cousin…?