I have a soft spot for Hamilton (stop sniggering at the back!), I really do. I spent the grand total of about a full 12 months living there pursuing my masters, but that time was spread out among two-and-a-half years, making me feel like I was a part of the city
for longer. Among the many places I like to visit when I was there (dammit man, I TOLD you to stop laughing!), a particularly interesting one is the Black Forest Inn. It’s a small, dimly lit German restaurant in the heart of downtown Hamilton, which you will almost certainly never spot unless you know what you’re looking for. It almost has no windows facing the main street on the main floor, and the signage isn’t lighted or prominent, but rather painted on the wall of the building itself. In a way (which I’m sure was at least partially their intent), it was really reminiscent of old European buildings that face the countless town squares in the heart of Bavarian Germany.
As I have spent quite a few evenings there drowning out my sorrows on those lonely cold nights in Hamilton, I decided to go back there for a little nostalgic visit with WW (who was also a McMaster graduate, though we never met each other during our one overlapping year). Walking in, I couldn’t help but be reminded once again how wonderfully unique the whole place is. Instead of glass doors like in many restaurants, this one had doors reminiscent of European old houses. Stepping inside, there is an almost total lack of natural light, with only small lamps lining the walls of the establishment. It was like another time and another place, and CERTAINLY not like the outside world of downtown Hamilton. I love it.
The Black Forest Inn’s specialties are its schnitzels. Not just your stereotypical breaded pork cutlet, the schnitzels here are cooked various different ways, with different (and delicious!) sauce options and a multitude of side dish accompaniments. I ordered the Schnitzel Husar (as I love me some bacon!) and WW ordered the Schnitzel a la Holstein (she was tempted by the fried egg and smoked salmon).
One thing you have to know is that the food here does take a while to come. I’m guessing is because everything is made to order (either that or the cooks in the back are playing the Deutschlandlied with the accordions in between frying up the good). However I have always taken this time to peruse the various German community newspapers that they have on the counter. It’s always a refreshing change to read the community paper of an ethnicity OTHER than Chinese, Indian, or Filipino (ones that I always get bombarded with in the GTA). Plus I always pause and admire the cute German traditional outfits that all the servers there wear. It’s the nice little touches that go a long way.
When the food came, it looked magnificent. I have a bit of a sauce problem (in that I love it too much) so this place was absolute heaven for me in that regard. My schnitzel was lean and quite bland, but is very nicely balanced by the strong, flavourful, and plentiful sauce with hints of paprika and black pepper. My side order of spaetzle (a German egg noodle pasta of sorts) and vegetables complemented the dish beautifully, and the whole thing was so large and fulfilling that tears well up in my eye. The salty bacon tied the dish all together, and the hot pepper rings were a nice touch.
WW’s food was no less magnificent. While I found that her sauce was a bit milder (and thus would be appreciated by those who enjoy a less overpowering taste), the fact that her lean schnitzel came with fried egg and a few slices of moist fried bread (!!!) sealed the deal. The salmon was a bit of a gyp though, they were so small that it looks like it was leftovers from another dish shoehorned into this one. Still tasty regardless, and the whole meal was like getting a warm hug from your German Aunt Greta.
All in all, the meal is not (and should not) be one that you consume with any regularity (your arteries will thank me) but as an occasional treat and a glimpse into old-school Germany you couldn’t do better than this. The service was very pleasant, and all the staff welcomed us with open arms, perhaps slightly bemused at the fact that two random Chinese people were confidently strolling in and ordering stuff like a BAWSE.
A great place to stop by in Hamilton, and one that totally deserves to be more well-known.
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
Black Forest Inn (Schwarzwaldhaus)
255 King Street East
Hamilton, ON L8K 1G9