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Home of the Porklift

July 13, 1995|JONATHAN GOLD

What to get: rollmops with fried potatoes; leberkase; bratwurst with sauerkraut.

Where to go: Red Lion Tavern, 2366 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, (213) 662-5337. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Lot parking. Takeout. Dinner for two, food only, $16-$22.

All half-timbers, dark lights and Ritterbrau on tap, Red Lion is sort of a Disneyland version of Germany at the eastern edge of the Silver Lake district, the kind of place where beer is served in boots, the waitresses wear peasant dresses tight-fitting enough to give Helmut Newton night sweats, and your dinner, if you sit in the upstairs dining room, makes its way from the kitchen in a dumbwaiter that pulleys the heavy, basic German food into a kind of fragrant armoire. (It's enough to make a fellow respect the wonders of high technology: a private elevator for schweinenbraten .)

Squadrons of beer steins, most of them for sale, are displayed behind glass on the walls. In the men's room, the week's California Staats-Zeitung is strategically mounted behind plexiglass for convenient stand-up reading. Sometimes there's an accordion player (though come to think of it, I haven't seen him lately) who will play "Eine Polische Madchen" for a small donation. More often, a guy bangs out stuff like "Bette Davis Eyes" on a small but intensively programmed synthesizer, sometimes accompanying himself on alto sax.

Early in the evening, there's usually a scattering of native Germans at the bar, though lately they've been outnumbered by arty Silver Lake dudes and the kind of shaggy music-scene guys who always know where to find the best suds in any neighborhood. The Red Lion serves Bitburger on tap, and the various shades of Ritterbrau, but the beer to get is the relatively uncommon Spaten Weissbier, tart as limeade, refreshing with a slice of lemon on a hot summer night.

Open late, populated but rarely overcrowded, as smoker-friendly as any restaurant can be in these neo-Prohibitionist days, Red Lion may not be the most refined restaurant in Los Angeles, but it has always been a good place for a beer and a wurst: knackwurst, bratwurst, weisswurst , bockwurst , German-style wieners, also the tasty smoked pork chops called Kassler rippchen and the jiggly pork hock called eisbein . (Avoid the turkey bratwurst, which tends to be kind of dry.)

Leberkase , veal loaf, is more or less like a flat, soft sausage without the skin, about the size and thickness of a slice of Wonder Bread, with a smack of garlic and smoke that is astonishingly like that of a Dodger dog, garnished with an egg hard-fried to a beef-jerky chewiness for contrast. Rouladen can be sort of unspectacular, gravy-sodden (though bloodless) sliced beef wrapped around some onions. Red Lion's farmer's plate includes a sausage stuffed with a sweetly seasoned mixture of blood; another with something like hot, loose liverwurst; a slab of bacon cut thick as a steak. Like almost everything here, the farmer's plate comes with a potato, in this case boiled rather than made into sweet-tart German potato salad or mashed, and with a mound of hot, mellow sauerkraut. The farmer's plate's not bad, but it would seem to require 14 hours of hard manual labor to metabolize.

The sausage platter is kind of spectacular-looking--a giant plate covered with bratwurst and knackwurst, cut into chunks, bristling with dozens of the kind of fancy cellophane-tufted toothpicks that classy coffee shops use to fasten your BLT. It's sort of a minimal plate really, all meat and maybe a pickle slice or two, and may be the polar opposite of a vegetarian plate. (Vegetarians, of course, will find little here that doesn't have at least a lashing of bacon fat for ballast.)

But oddly enough in this palace of meat, the best dish may be the fish dish called rollmops : cool, silvery slabs of marinated herring, cleanly fishy, so heavily vinegared you can choke a little on the fumes if you take too big a first bite. The herring comes with a great pile of something close to the perfect potatoes, fried crisp in bacon grease and dotted with wilted onions, and the platter may be just the sort of occasion for which liter-size beer mugs were invented.

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