Food snobs tend to use the word ‘authentic’ to refer to cheap, dingy holes in the wall run by wizened old women and populated by leather-faced blue-collar workers, not brand-spanking-new midpriced expat restaurants putting the stamp of gentrification on NoSo (north of Sonnenallee). Yet we dare say: the six-month-old MJ’s Foodshop serves some of the most authentic American food in Berlin!
It starts with the portions. “The French have a problem here,” our waiter says as, completely stuffed, we admit defeat and ask to have the remaining third of our reasonable-sounding order doggy-bagged. Like the no-frills New York eateries at which owner and chef Michael Rosenfeld made his living before moving to Europe seven years ago, MJ’s Foodshop is not a place for restraint. Or subtlety. Or, thank god, tofu.
Instead, it’s a hall of fame of casual-dining classics made entirely from scratch, including all the breads and sauces (besides the obligatory ketchup and Tabasco). There’s Caesar salad, a club sandwich, mac and cheese, beef brisket and fried chicken, none of it ‘artisanal’ or ‘deconstructed’ or given a pretentious gourmet twist. Rather, it’s just like your American mum made – but better.
Take that mac and cheese (€5), which though listed as a “Small Favourite” arrives in a crock the size of a Frisbee. Made with Irish cheddar, it avoids the dish’s usual (mushy, congealed) missteps even on reheat, achieving a creamy texture with a nicely browned crust that shatters like a crème brûlée when you dig in. Or the Caesar salad (€7), which unless otherwise specified comes absolutely drenched, steakhouse-style, in a tangy dressing (anchovies included, of course!) with thick grilled toast in lieu of croutons – the homemade bread stands out spectacularly here.
Puzzlingly, the menu skips over beef burgers, opting for a veggie version only (€8). As if to overcompensate, the grain-and-mushroom patty is one of the meatiest ones we’ve tried in Berlin. Topped with avocado and caramelised onions, served with cabbage slaw and some pretty darn addictive sliced pickled chillies, it’s anything but health food – even more so with add-ons (€.50-1) like cheese, a fried egg or, yes, bacon. Only order the fries (€3 with your choice of flavoured mayo) if you’re ravenous – they earn points for leaving the skin on, but could stand to be crispier.
MJ’s most glaring weak spot is its alcoholic drinks. A crisp local IPA would work wonders in cutting through the myriad swathes of melted cheese, and weekend brunchers might crave a Bloody Mary along with that towering turkey and bacon club (€9). Instead, we’re left with sweet-ish, mostly Bavarian brews (around €2.50).
Don’t let that deter you. In the constant, oppressive greyness of a Berlin winter, comfort food is a must, and that’s exactly what you’ll find here. All that’s left is for Rosenfeld to make good on his promise to keep his restaurant open 24 hours on weekends so you can replace that 4am döner with something truly unregrettable – and have enough left over that you won’t have to leave the house for breakfast the next day.
Originally published in issue #133, December 2014.