a leftover from yorkville’s past

| 29 Jun 2015 | 04:18

Every week for the rest of the year, Our Town will celebrate our 45th anniversary by profiling a neighborhood business that has been around longer than we have. Know of a local business that should be on our list? Email us at news@strausnews.com

Walking down Second Avenue near 86th Street, one building will invariably catch your eye. With a quaint, medieval-style facade, floral patterned bars over the windows and a big wooden door with a brass handle, it almost looks like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Though it isn’t quite as old as it lets on, the business does date back to 1939, having set up shope before most others in Yorkville. The Heidelberg, a Bavarian restaurant, is a throwback to the era when the neighborhood was almost entirely German.

Luise Edler, the mother of current owner Eva Matischak, first bought the property in 1964. She had been working as a chef at Kleine Konditorei, a restaurant on the same street, when she noticed that the property was up for sale. With a cookbook full of old family recipes, she immediately took the opportunity to build on the Heidelberg’s legacy.

“The entire neighborhood was German,” Matischak recalled. “It was wall-to-wall German. Every restaurant, every shop was owned by Germans. And they only spoke German.”

That’s not the case anymore. “Nothing’s left on 86th Street from what was once Germantown,” she said. “We’re the only ones left.”

Regardless, the restaurant still has a sizable group of dedicated patrons who come for the Heidelberg’s wursts, sauerbraten, schnitzels and, of course, its lagers and pilsners.

The restaurant has changed very little since its founding, noted manager Kurt Krautheim.

“I’m really proud of the way it looks in here,” he said. “It’s a warm environment; it’s very authentic.”

Krautheim, who started managing Heidelberg a few years ago, still remembers what it felt like when he stepped into the restaurant for the first time.

“I first came in here as a customer years ago,” he said. “And I think the first time I came in, I knew the place was special. And I just got to know everyone, and everyone was super nice to me. It’s like a home, I guess.”

As you leave the restaurant, you may notice a sign emblazoned right above the doorway: “COME A STRANGER, LEAVE A FRIEND.” This, in a nutshell, is Heidelberg’s philosophy.