OBVIOUSLY, I HAVE A THING for cephalopods. The darlings at the end of my fork are like fleshy flowers, with delicate tentacles spun in intricate curlicues. It's almost a shame to consume these dainty octopuses, but they taste so good. That's their downfall, really—the subtle rubber snap between the teeth similar to a good sausage, the sea saltiness mixing with fine grill char. Smoke on the water.
And they keep appearing! Just when I think I've eaten the last of the oceanic orchids, I push aside the tumble of tender asparagus only to find another one. The happiness of discovery is only amplified by dragging the eight-armed beasties through pepper-fennel sauce and saffron aioli. It's all so preciously barbaric.
Traveling through the keyhole of Spints Alehouse will find you in a territory where these moments aren't uncommon. It's a peculiar place, though I suppose no more than any other pan-German cocktail lounge boasting a mystifying menu and robust tap and bottle list. Still—the rock-decorated bar, the screened stein lockers, the claustrophobic back dining room, the wine bottles hanging off the wall like weird green glass fruit—it's disorienting.
So is Spints' menu. That's mostly because of options not easily recognized outside of Das Vaterland. I imagine brisket pelmenis, for instance, might launch more than a few mobile wiki searches (resulting in revelations of dumplings). It's better to just jump in and discover the meaty morsels for yourself. Tasting like grandmother's pot roast chased by homemade white bread, they're adequately pleasant with leeks and crème fraîche, but could use a little high note to add more complexity to the cavernous beef flavors.
A bit more familiar linguistically, but not necessarily palate-wise, is shrimp and crab mousseline, an odd appetizer like a thick sliced seafood cold cut topped with luscious dill dressing and a pile of greens. It's a topsy-turvy shrimp and crab salad.
Another appetizer on the seafood front (remember, Germany has two coasts) is fried oysters on ham. The oysters are allowed to do their thing, well breaded and tender between the teeth, paired with a subtle ham to provide the barest hint of salt. More remoulade would do well to add more excitement to this understated dish.
Also understated is a pork schnitzel entrée, but schnitzel is just inherently restrained. The dish is all about texture and breading acting as a vehicle, in this case for the sherry butter. However, the tender cutlet is utterly forgettable beside the cabbage gratin that shares the plate (think sauerkraut topped with a big melted dollop of cheese). Sound unappetizing? Maybe. But the pickled tartness and rich fat is outstanding.
It's evidence Spints can break it down with some serious grub, like the smoked chicken paprikash. It manages to evoke a summer cookout: juicy fowl thick with charcoal flavor, topped with a bright pink Austrian-style kraut reminiscent of tart, sweet pickled beets.
Also on the grub front is the entirety of Spints' bar menu, which is an absolute steal during happy hour. Best bets include a crock of house-made "cocktail wienies" worthy of the title only in that they're smothered with a sweet BBQ-ish sauce. They are big, meaty, and too much for one person.
Also shareable is a delicious chicken puff pot pie with a beautifully browned, flaky crust, baked in cast iron, concealing a thick soup of cream, wine, garlic, and chicken.
Ordering the cheese board is worth it, if only to get your hands on the homemade crackers, but if you want to know the true wonder locked away in Spints, order a "dirty pretzel." Changing regularly, it's "dirty" in that the pretzel is smothered with goodness and you'll shame yourself for eating the whole thing. The latest permutation: crisp, fried, boneless chicken breast and pork belly gravy. What? I know! It's like eating a chicken club sandwich with all the unwanted contents removed... dipped in gravy.
If a dirty pretzel, a lovely little octopus dish, and some brain-bending cocktails aren't enough to make you a regular (thus winning you a personal stein locker), well then, back away from the keyhole. You best find some other pan-Germanic cocktail lounge alehouse restaurant.