My Philosophy on Food (After a Mediocre Meal)

My husband and I were out and about today running errands, so between my visit to the Führerscheinstelle to get my German driver's license (yay!) and his visit to the Ausländerbehörde to update his visa, we met for lunch. We decided on a tiny café on Eberhardstraße across from the Ausländerbehörde called Café Chamäleon. We'd been once before about a week after we arrived in Germany to get our first visas two years ago. I remembered the meal because it was the first time I'd had käse spätzle (a Schwäbisch-style pasta with cheese) in Germany, and I remembered it being amazing. I wanted to have that dish again so that I could review the café for my blog. 

Café Chamäleon

We chose to sit outside as the weather continues to hover around a pleasant 70ºF in Stuttgart. After ordering a bottle of mineral water, I once again chose the käse spätzle while my husband opted for a spinach and feta pasta. So far, so good.

As we sat sipping our water and enjoying the weather, we were frequented by a happy little yellow jacket buzzing around our heads. Since moving to Germany we've relaxed a little on our "no swatting" rule, as usually one or two good swift movements of the hand and the accompanying gust of air is enough to drive any pest away. However, our friend was a little persistent today.

A German "side salad"

Our salads were the first to come out. When I saw mine, I declared, "Wow, that's a big salad!" My husband was quick to remind me that I said the very same thing two years ago when we dined there the first time. I only mention the salad because salads in Germany are very different from salads in the States. This one came piled high with potato salad, carrot salad, and two kinds of cabbage salad. Bean salad and canned corn are also rather common ingredients. I find these kinds of salad to be delicious, but very filling. I'm sure our yellow jacket friend agreed because he returned again. Still, he wasn't really such a problem. I stood up and simply moved my salad a few feet out of his way, after which I returned to my seat. He was gone for good, or so I thought. 

About five or so minutes later, our waitress reappeared with my käse spätzle and Matt's pasta. One look at it and I could tell that it was not how I remembered. The spätzle was shaped almost like long noodles swimming in a sea of butter studded with the occasional onion and topped with the usual cheese, though it was not as deliciously gooey as I remembered it the first time. On first bite, the spätzle was okay, but not the "wow" that I remembered either. What could be wrong? Had the passage of time and potential changing of staff influenced the menu? Was my memory really that poor? Had I simply liked the dish because it was my first taste of it in Germany? Matt tried a bite and confirmed my evaluation. He even went so far as to say that I make better käse spätzle at home these days. And his dish? It was certainly spinach and feta pasta, but it, too, was just okay. 

Käse Spätzle  at Café Chamäleon

Käse Spätzle at Café Chamäleon

Spinach and feta pasta at Café Chamäleon

The warm dishes on the lunch menu at Café Chamäleon

I don't have this experience often, but it does happen, and I was in a bit of a quandary. Should I publish a blog post about a mediocre meal or should I just not write anything at all? In the end, I felt it was disingenuous to pretend that I always go out to amazing places and eat delicious food, when in reality sometimes I find fantastic meals and sometimes the food just isn't to my liking. If the meal is mediocre, then most likely I ordered something that I didn't like, either because I took a chance on a new food or because the style of cooking is not what I expected. If anything, I blame myself for the poor choice rather than blame the restaurant, and I wouldn't do something like send the food back in that case. In fact, I've only ever sent food back if it's not what I ordered (including the temperature on a steak, but only if it's a huge difference like well done when it should be medium rare) or if the food is clearly unhygienic (think hair in food, which happens). Having been a server for three years during college, I feel like I'm a bit more understanding because I know what goes on in the back of a kitchen. In addition, I would never take a mediocre dish out on the server by tipping less, unless, of course, the service had been poor to boot. Usually these days I'll eat a meal even if it's just okay, but I may not finish it and I may or may not return to the restaurant, depending on the circumstances. Life is too short to eat okay food when there are other choices. (I consider myself very lucky to have food security where I can make this choice.)

Now back to lunch: As I was nibbling on my käse spätzle and thinking about what to do about my blog post, our yellow jacket friend returned, and this time, he brought a partner. The two buzzed from käse spätzle to spinach and feta pasta, and no amount of swatting or moving would make them go away, even though I smacked the wasp hard once or twice on accident. Leo also tried to take a bite out of one -- silly beagle. (You can't exactly tell a dog that yellow jackets sting and that you don't want to pay for the vet visit when his face swells up.) I was on my way to moving us to a different patio table, thinking that might help, when our waitress appeared outside and offered to move us to an indoor table in her section. That solved the problem immediately, and the tables we passed and couples by the window were even kind enough to stop their chuckling at our battle with the yellow jackets as we moved our meal indoors. 

The bakery side of Café Chamäleon

The very cool interior of Café Chamäleon

My café au lait at Café Chamäleon

Once inside, we finished our lunch in peace and looked over the cakes, wondering if we should try a dessert. We decided not to in the end, because although the cakes looked beautiful, we've discovered after a couple of years of living here that the cake is not as moist and the icing not as sweet as we would expect by look alone. This just happens to be a general difference that I've noticed between American (and French for the matter) and German baking. And so we settled on a couple of coffees and asked for the bill. 

We pooled our cash, and I did a quick calculation in my head. I suspected 25€ would be slightly more than enough, so when our waitress pulled out her handheld ordering machine and told us it was 33€, I was shocked. We didn't have enough, and they didn't take cards, so while Matt fumbled to find an ATM in Apple maps on his phone, I think our waitress realized something was up and returned with a print out of our bill. It turns out we had a beer and two salads on our check from another table, but as soon as she realized the mistake, she apologized profusely and accepted my quick addition without any questions. We paid, tipping our usual 10% (which is the norm in German), because as a former server, I know it happens. I was also grateful that she helped us move to an indoor table and that she didn't argue with me about the bill. Despite the mistake, I think the service was rather good at Café Chamäleon. 

Old Bridge Gelateria's new location on Eberhardstraße

After lunch, Matt left for his appointment at the Ausländerbehörde and I headed back down Eberhardstraße with Leo, when to my surprise, I passed an Old Bridge Gelateria. I though there was only one Old Bridge downtown out by the Königsbau-Passagen, and while I've never tried the ice cream, I've heard people say it's their favorite in Stuttgart. This must be true for a lot of people given that the line is generally very long, which is another reason why I haven't tried their ice cream yet. The location I was passing was clearly new (the sign of the previous business was still hanging above the sidewalk) and there were only two people in line at the counter. Thinking that I could still write a blog post on something yummy, I got in line. 

The first thing I noticed was the price. In Stuttgart, most ice cream is 1€ per scoop, so at 1,50€ per scoop, Old Bridge's ice cream was expensive. Still, this was gelato in the Italian tradition according to their sign, and all of the flavors were in fact listed in Italian. That means it must be good, right? The second thing I noticed was that the cones were, sadly, not waffle cones. Instead, they served their ice cream in wafer-style cones, which I don't really care for. Not a big deal; I ordered my ice cream in a cup instead. 

Nutella and crème caramel gelato (with Leo looking up hopefully)

My two flavor choices were nutella and crème caramel. My first bite into the nutella was absolutely amazing! If an American-style marching band had started playing while fireworks went off in the sky at the exact moment when I took that first bite, then I would have thought it was appropriate. It tasted like they had mixed nutella with a little heavy cream, and called it gelato (which is probably the case and probably explains the rich flavor and smooth texture).

My crème caramel was sure to be equally as delicious, so I took a bite...and it was just okay. There wasn't much in the taste that reminded me of the sweet, eggy flavor of crème caramel with its burnt sugar topping. This had all the sweetness, but none of the egg or cream to balance it. I was perhaps most struck by the irony of my cup: here I had an amazing ice cream flavor right next to a mediocre one, just like lunch. Such is life. 

If you would like to try Café Chamäleon, then you can find it on Eberhardstraße just a short, five minute walk from the Rathaus u-bahn station. They are open from 6:15 am until 8 pm on weekdays and 6 pm on weekends. They have some fairly good reviews on Yelp for breakfast, and their menu looked rather good for breads and pastries, so I would suggest you go for breakfast in the morning. If you do, let be know how your meal went in the comments below. You should also definitely stop for gelato at Old Bridge either downtown beside the  Königsbau-Passagen and up from the movie theater, or at the new Eberhardstraße location. I wholeheartedly recommend the nutella flavor.