Jacoby’s Biergarten (Detroit, MI)

If there’s anything that describes Detroit’s complicated history, the phrase “boom and bust” is it. Since even it’s earliest days as a fur trapping colony, it has had a cyclic history, with hallmarks including burning almost completely to the ground in 1805 (the source of its sometimes poignant “Resurget Cineribus”, “We will rise from the ashes” part of its motto), getting rebuilt as a modern metropolitan area, becoming one of the country’s largest banking and industry centers in the Industrial Revolution, having all that collapse in the Great Depression, rebounding again in WW2 as the Arsenal of Democracy, collapsing again in the late 1960s, slowly rebuilding through the 1980s and 1990s, getting hit harder than most in the 2008 mortgage crisis, and having a rather impressive recovery as downtown Detroit reinvents itself as a modern city. Unfortunately, those rounds of rebuilding and “urban renewal” aren’t without their costs: businesses close, their buildings go idle, and in many cases, the combination of economic depression and demand for sports event parking mean that many, many historic buildings and restaurants are now… parking lots. Really old, continuously operated businesses in Detroit are pretty rare. But a notable exception to this is Jacoby’s Biergarten, which has been serving up German food and beer for well over 100 years.

Sitting in shadow east of the Wayne County Building (itself mostly vacant since 2008), around the corner from the iconic Saint Andrews Hall/Shelter music venue, Jacoby’s is still a modest, two-story saloon standing almost by itself, the surrounding buildings long gone. Walking inside, it’s almost like walking into a time capsule, since the place feels pretty old: it’s a bit dark, it’s more than a little patinated, and there’s a nice decades-old selection of random beer logos everywhere.

The menu at Jacoby’s is your basic “German-American Beer Hall” food: a decent selection of beers, including some of my German stalwarts like Weihenstephener, Reissdort, and Ayinger. So as a start, it’s a great place to go if you’ve got a particular German beer craving. Foodwise, it’s the classic combination of wursts, schnitzels, and a number of concessions to American palates like hamburgers and chicken fingers. Obviously, if I’m coming to a German place, I’m going to go German, selecting one of my favorite German “comfort” foods: Jaegerschnitzel. And I wasn’t disappointed: my schnitzel was a nicely-executed pork cutlet with a nice, crisp breading and a still moist interior, with a flavorful (if a bit heavy) mushroom gravy, a smattering of very crispy potato pancakes, and some red cabbage and kraut. Everything I want in a basic German dish all in one plate. Brian did a selection of wursts, and was similarly pleased.

Overall, it’s not the fanciest German place, but I’ve got to give Jacoby’s more than a little credit, having persisted through more than a century of tumult, still producing some enjoyable food. I’d be happy to come back.

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