When the "little" welcoming greeting from the kitchen landing on your table is a crock full of griebenschmalz (goose drippings) to smear on several kinds of rye breads, you just know what you're in for. Hearty, calorie-unconscious, traditional German fare. Exactly what Elephantenkeller, one of the two restaurants of the Hotel Elephant in Weimar, does and does well. If you've read about the more classy upstairs Anna Amalia restaurant before, you might want to get those dishes and atmosphere out of your head. Elephantenkeller is situated in the rustic, yet absolutely fascinating cellar (-keller in German) of the Hotel. The service on the other hand, while not as formal as the one in Anna Amalia, shares the same friendliness and professional savoir-faire.
As many other places in Weimar, Elephantenkeller cannot avoid reminding everyone of their little part in Wolfgang Goethe's life. A few informative panels on the history of the building describe how the great man used to come here for a drink. If stories are to believed, he indulged in a Sherry every now and then in this hall. I always thought he only drank Schwarzbier! I understand that Goethe is THE German writer, author of Faust and Faust part II the revenge, and that everybody loves or at least respects him. I agree he deserves to be celebrated and honored in a number of ways. Still, does he really have to come up everywhere? Sorry, everywhere except toilets: never found a "Goethe used this bathroom for his. . . needs", as hard as I looked. I haven't given up though, the search goes on. There has to be one; if Sherry goes in, something HAS to come out.
Having passed the Goethe test, you enter the arched dining hall and take a seat at one of the massive wooden tables, sufficiently spaced and for once, considering the type of establishment, big enough to hold food and drinks without getting crowded. On the evening we were there the main hall was fully booked for a celebration, so we were moved to a side aisle. Slightly more isolated, but neither service nor atmosphere suffered from that.
The menu follows pretty much the standard Thuringian Gasthaus tradition: cold dishes to go with beer, soups, a few desserts, but most of all a wide choice of meat based regional classics. What puts Elephantenkeller in a different league, with only a few others in this neighborhood, is the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the kitchen. Everything is cooked properly and tastes freshly made, not like the pre-cooked stuff in a bag that seems to become more and more popular in price-conscious establishments today. (If you think I'm kidding about the diffusion of pre-cooked food in German restaurants you might want to read this article in German , or just search for convenience food on google).
We started with a well made horseradish cream soup, and choose two of the more unusual mains. The abundant Topfbraten, an offal based speciality, made with pork kidney, heart and cheek and served with Thuringian Klöße, was the demonstration that kidneys, when properly handled, can be one of the best offal picks. The Spannferkel (suckling pig) with Semmelknödel (bread dumplings) was everything one would expect: tender meat, a rich but not overpowering sauce and a juicy, buttery layer of fat. And for once real, flavorful dumplings. The desserts don't deserve any special mention, correct but nothing more.
If you're in Weimar and want a real taste of the local cuisine Elephantenkeller is a good pick. And if you want to get in the spirits of things you might even bring your pocket version of Faust along and order a Sherry. Cheers Wolfgang!