I visited the Kreilingshöfchen at the invitation of HA Hessen Agentur GmBH as part of a three-day tour of my adopted home state. I am a bit biased because I love it here, but all editorial and opinions (and suggestions for what to eat in Frankfurt) are my own.
I finished up my recent three day culinary exploration of the federal state of Hesse (Hessen) at the Kreilingshöfchen hotel and restaurant in Bad Vilbel, just north of Frankfurt. Bad Vilbel is a spa town in the Wetterau, a fertile region largely made up of forests, orchards, pastures and agricultural land that’s part of the multi-centred metropolitan area known as Frankfurt Rhine-Main (Frankfurt Rhein-Main).
The Kreilingshöfchen is a 20-minute train ride from Frankfurt’s main train station, but a world away from city life. Its restaurant is a pretty, leafy garden that’s only open during the warmer months, and has wooden tables set with red and white checked tablecloths arranged neatly on the grass and terrace. The garden is fringed by beds of marigolds and roses, and the fruit from the cherry and red Mirabelle trees is used by owner and chef Annette Kreiling to make vinegar and jam.
The restaurant was founded by Annette’s grandmother, Marie, in 1946, with a focus on producing dishes with (as far as possible) seasonal, regional ingredients. This continues to be Annette’s approach not just in the Kreilingshöfchen kitchen but also with her catering company, Kreilings Gourmet Service, and at the bistro of the impressive-looking Celtic Museum (Keltenmuseum) in Glauberg, 27km north east of Bad Vilbel.
Keen to promote the fresh produce and culinary traditions of Frankfurt Rhine-Main, Annette focuses on serving regional specialties and/or using local ingredients, occasionally with a bit of a modern twist. The food here is fresh, and the dishes almost entirely vegetarian. They are generally served as small plates, encouraging guests to try a selection of different specialties, which in my book, essentially means not having to miss out.
Below is a selection of the food I had the pleasure of trying at the Kreilingshöfchen. It’s in no way a comprehensive list of the region’s specialties – I’ll write up some more of those another time – but particularly for vegetarians wondering what to eat in Frankfurt, this is a very good place to start. (Apologies in advance for the slightly rubbish photos but I’m afraid I’m not the sort of person to stop my fellow diners tucking in by insisting on rearranging everything endlessly for pictures first.)
What to eat in Frankfurt
Handkäs’ (or Handkäse, literally “hand cheese”) is a sour milk cow’s cheese that’s traditional shaped by hand into small, firm, pale honey-coloured pucks. It’s slightly tacky to the touch and has a very pungent flavour and smell – it took me a good seven years of regular sampling to learn to like it, and I’d say it’s very much an acquired taste.
Handkäs’ is most commonly served whole with chopped onion, vinegar and oil, a mixture known as Musik, or music, and served with butter and bread. At the Kreilingshöfchen, it came chopped into bite-sized pieces and served in an additional three ways: with a herby Schmand (a sour cream similar to crème fraîche); pesto made with Grüne Soße herbs; and with chopped apple and onion, balsamic vinegar and walnuts.
This was new to me: finely chopped Handkäs‘ mixed with cucumber, apple and some kind of dairy product – I suspect again Schmand – and garnished with rings of red onion and chopped chives. Creamy but still pungent, it came in an enormous dish that eight of us were far from able to finish between us, and was served with poppyseed bread rolls.
I’ve already written at length about Grüne Soße (green sauce), it being one of my very favourite regional German dishes. In brief: it’s a fresh green sauce made with seven very specific herbs grown in Frankfurt, and it’s usually served with boiled potatoes and eggs. (There are other variations of Grüne Soße made all over Hessen, but I’ll get into that another time.)
The Grüne Soße at Kreilingshöfchen is made with herbs grown 15km south in Frankfurt-Oberrad and served only in season, the herb mix varying slightly as the weeks progress. They use up approximately 10kg of herbs a day for their sauce, which they make with Schmand and quark. It’s served either alongside boiled eggs or, as I was presented with, a small piece of fried breaded pork – the combination of Grüne Soße and a Schnitzel known as a Frankfurter Schnitzel – with large chunks of fried potato and some salad alongside.
Of all the cheese dips I’ve tried so far in Germany (two other delicious options being Spundekäs‘ and Obatzda), Schneegestöber is now very much my favourite. It’s made with the same basic ingredients as the others – cream cheese, Camembert, butter and chopped onion – but it’s much heavier on the cream cheese and lighter on the Camembert, making for a creamier, less strongly flavoured spread. Schneegestöber is served with pretzels or slices of dark bread and is excellent with a glass of Apfelwein (see below).
What to drink in Frankfurt
Frankfurt may have its own vineyard and be located conveniently for visiting some of Germany’s finest wine regions, and it might be slap bang in the middle of a country most famous for its beer, but if you’re going to be traditional about the alcohol you’re drinking in this region, it’ll need to be made of apples. There are a handful of German beers and wines on the menu at the Kreilingshöfchen (plus various fruit juices and other soft drinks), but I started my meal with an Apfelsecco – a semi-sparkling apple wine – before moving on to…
Apfelwein, or Ebbelwoi in local dialect, is popular across much of southern Hessen, but is Frankfurt’s favourite drink. I generally call it cider to keep things simple, but applewine (as it literally translates) is actually made using a slightly different process to that of British cider (and French cidre), which results in a beverage of between 5-7% alcohol that is sour-tasting and flat.
Apfelwein is well known for the lethal hangovers it produces, so although it can be enjoyed pure (“pur“), it’s also popular diluted with sparkling water, a drink known as a Sauergespritzte. However you order it, it’s traditionally served in a glass called a Geripptes and/or a large blue and grey ceramic jug known as a Bembel. At the Kreilingshöfchen, I tried for the first time a rosé Apfelwein, which turned out to be cider with blackcurrant. (This brought back happy memories of my student days in northern England, though perhaps thanks to the word “rosé“, it felt slightly classier than a plastic pint glass of snakebite and black.)
My meal at the Kreilingshöfchen ended with the a lovely surprise in the form of a drink I’d never of heard of. A Milspelchen is a serving of apple schnapps similar to Calvados – this one made by a distillery 28km north of Bad Vilbel called Born in the Wetterau – topped with a preserved loquat, or Mispel.
Annette has planted her own loquat tree in the Kreilingshöfchen garden in the hope she’ll be preserving homegrown fruit in the future. This really tells you all you need to know about Annette and the Kreilingshöfchen: I highly recommend that if you’re in or around Frankfurt during the drier, sunnier months of the year, you check in advance to see if they’re open – and go.
How to get there: take the S6 train from Frankfurt to Bad Vilbel-Süd train station; the restaurant is a 2 minute walk from there.