It was the best of times, it was the wurst of times. Such times can be hard to come by on the East End, the number of restaurants offering genuine German fare being roughly equivalent to the number of beaches you’d consider sunbathing upon during the first week in February.
Shippy’s Pumpernickels East Restaurant has been offering delicious, traditional German options since 1978, when Adolf “Ed” Nielsen purchased the establishment. Nielsen, who we were sorry to hear had passed away this past week, brought authentic German flavors and hospitality to the Hamptons—that distinctive, echt Deutsch combination of careful execution and quiet comfort. Shippy’s is one of those off-the-tourist-track spots year-rounders call home, dark and warm and sporting a collection of regulars at the bar who always set the perfect locals scene. There’s a decided lack of pretension, no see-and-be-seen scene here or gaggles of selfie-sharers. Just a casual warmth, present no matter the season but nicely suited to wintertime dining out.
Beer is a necessity for getting in the Bavarian state of mind, and both “helles,” or light, and “dunkel,” or dark, are on tap. Either pairs with a starter such as the raw oysters, briny and chilly but not icy, or the marinated herring in sour cream and onions, a pleasant combination of sweet and sour and a genuine standout among the appetizers. The German-style onion rings are not actually “rings” at all, but rather a tasty nest of thin-sliced and crispy straws. It is a little hard to figure out how to eat them in a dignified manner. But the maintenance of dignity isn’t really the highest priority—Shippy’s is fairly casual, after all, and guests are here for the food.
German food is all about wonderful things being made out of the humblest of ingredients—it’s in the attention to details. Consider sauerkraut. Sauerkraut doesn’t have to be that mouth-puckering stuff found at baseball stadium hot dog stands. Cooked properly, the German way, it can become a tasty treat, the perfect accompaniment to authentic wursts.
And what about those wursts? If indifferently sourced, those too can resemble ballpark fare, little better than hot dogs with slightly different shapes. But a good German bratwurst is an exalted thing, not too salty, subtly seasoned, and nicely grilled.
The Bavarian House Platter consists of one kassler rippchen (that’s a German-style smoked pork chop, and smoky it is!) and your choice of
knockwurst (beef sausage), weisswurst (veal sausage) or bratwurst (pork sausage). Select that last option and you’re rewarded with a perfectly turned-out brat, complete with that tasty sauerkraut.
Additional German classics such as sauerbraten and wiener schnitzel crown the menu, (along with specials worth keeping an eye out for, such as a savory beef goulash over egg noodles that had forks reaching from four corners for a taste during a lunchtime visit), accompanied by traditional sides like red cabbage and potato dumplings.
And then there is the rouladen. You know you are in a place that knows its German when the waitress, before allowing you to order the rouladen, asks whether you like it with the pickle. This is no small matter. Rouladen is a dish of thinly rolled beef slices filled with onions and bacon and—depending upon the chef—pickles, smothered in brown gravy. There are, to be clear, two entrenched sides in the great rouladen debate, people taking up camps along either side of the pickle. The gherkin is a winning addition here, and might even be able to draw converts from those convinced the pickle-free version is best. Of course, if there’s any doubt, simply go with a wurst.
Shippy’s Pumpernickels East Restaurant, 36 Windmill Lane, Southampton. Open for lunch Monday through Wednesday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner served Monday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. and Sunday 4 to 10 p.m. Call 631-283-0007 or visit shippyspumpernickels.com.