Because Morse’s Sauerkraut and European Cafe occupies a barn on a rural road, it’s easy to pass by. But it’s worth seeking out.
For schnitzel, borscht, blinis and other Eastern European favorites — as well as what’s widely regarded as the best sauerkraut around — make a stop at this uncommon, unlikely cafe in the middle of the Waldoboro countryside.
To fully enjoy it, bring an appetite. Unbuckle the belt a notch. There’s nothing delicate about the cuisine. Owner David Swetnam describes the cafe as a cross between a Jewish deli and a German restaurant.
Open since 1918 for sauerkraut and limited take-out (‘kraut dogs), the retail side expanded until a sit-down cafe was added about eight years ago.
Five large booths with cushioned seats and high backs populate the small dining room. A northern European tone derives from a couple of details, including a trompe l’oeil painting on masonry with a scene of Ludwig Castle in Germany amidst fields of cabbage. (Cabbage fields could once be seen outside the windows of Morse’s.) The cafe serves breakfast and lunches that go well beyond soups and sandwiches.
A cream of cucumber and dill soup ($5) had a silky base with small cubes of seeded cukes. The bowl was a little short of dill flavor, surprisingly, as this would be easy to remedy. The soup is served warm or cold; we chose warm, but cold may have been the better choice. Dig into Morse’s homemade sour mustard or sour garlic pickles — old-fashioned beauties a la Lower East Side — while you wait for your food.
Pierogies (eastern European dumplings like ravioli) are fried, then bathed in butter and sauteed onions with a not overabundant mash of ‘kraut and mushroom in middle. They were smooth, ungummy packages, but too salty overall ($6). Other choices included lentil and cheese or potato and cheese.
Morse’s charcuterie is not its own, but it’s smart to choose the best to serve: Schaller and Weber sausages and meats. There are 20 varieties available in the adjacent retail store and about six offered on the menu, but in practice, you can order anything it carries.
Homemade sides were wonderful, from the toothsome, slightly firm, sweet and savory baked beans to the red cabbage braised with apple, bacon, currant jelly and onion.
And of course, there’s the haus ‘kraut, made with the cafe’s own fresh sauerkraut –which bears slight resemblance to the canned or plastic-bagged sauerkraut that sits next to the hot dogs in the supermarket — and slow cooked with a bit of bacon, apples, onion, white wine and juniper berries.
Schaller and Weber is also the source of the smoked pork loin — kasseler rippchem — which was pink, drier and less salty than the ham we tried. We chose a worthy bratwurst and an Irish banger to fill out the plate ($15). Add mustard to taste from the German choices on the table.
For a delicious mouthful, fork up a bite of haus ‘kraut with the meat or a cube of those roasted potatoes — perfectly textured, smoky and rusty with paprika and spices.
We would have liked to have tried the whitefish salad, but the cafe was out. So the pork fest continued with breaded and fried pork loin (schnitzel) with that outstanding red cabbage ($12). The menu offered a couple of ways to order the dish. A la Holstein seemed right for this late March midday — sunny-side up egg, anchovies, capers and lemon for a pungent Mediterranean lift. Another option was a Jaeger sauce of mushrooms, bacon and port wine.
The “Rat Mac” side ($3.50) — elbow macaroni with a long-aged, extra sharp “Rat” cheddar — was a bowl of cheesy goodness suitable for sophisticates. Bread crumbs added golden frilliness.
Dessert was homemade apple strudel with rum-soaked raisins, apples deglazed in ginger syrup (which did not overwhelm the apple flavor — nice) wrapped up in phyllo, topped with ice cream and whipped cream, the whole drizzled with Maine apple cider syrup ($6). Go big or go home.
A mug of rich and creamy German hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, was another guilty pleasure ($2.50). Beverage options include ginger beer, ginger ale, seltzers, lime rickey, tea, etc. Alas, there are no cold German beers to wash down the wursts; no garbage-y soft drinks, either.
Our waitress at lunchtime on a Sunday, the only one on the floor at the time, managed to provide friendly and warm service to all around.
Be advised that the flavors at Morse’s are not subtle, green vegetables are scant, and the portions are designed for Hans, not Heidi. Smokiness and ferment rule. If an item on the menu isn’t homemade, you can be sure it’s been carefully selected.
If you come for breakfast, don’t miss the Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam. Or the babka (chocolate-swirled yeast bread, procured from a Brooklyn kosher bakery) French toast.
Oh, mein Gott. Jog tomorrow.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at: