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October fest

Village Corner in Stone Mountain cozies up to German cooking

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Sometimes it seems that German cuisine has been all but assimilated by American cooking, especially in this part of the country. Sauerkraut simply adds a tart counterpoint to deli Reuben sandwiches, while sausage minds its own business, hanging out on the breakfast plate with the toast and eggs.

You have to go out of your way to find places that give German food its due, that take an expert approach, not a perfunctory one, with Bavarian dishes. There being so few, Village Corner in Stone Mountain is one of the best by default (Kurt's in Duluth is another), but the strength of its specialties and the coziness of its environment more than justify a visit.

With its faux-Alpine exterior and pretzel logo painted above the door, the Village Corner and Basket Bakery could be a little stronghold of Helen in the shadow of Stone Mountain. The restaurant is essentially divided into three sections for serving food. The entrance displays the wares -- in glass cases and plastic bags -- of the Basket Bakery, which serves a variety of traditional cakes, breads, cookies and the like.

To the right is the more elegant dining room, somewhat patterned after a country house, boasting a cuckoo clock, rustic baskets, knickknacks and a surprisingly idyllic view of the cemetery across the street. To the bakery's left is a tavern with a companionable, pub-like atmosphere suitable for raising a sudsy glass or two with your food. The middle of the room features one of the most warm and inviting fireplaces in Atlanta, and is the prime place to sit. (Be aware that service can move at a glacial pace in the evenings, although a recent lunchtime visit proved attentive and friendly).

Village Corner's menu includes crab cakes and various Continental selections. Your rule of thumb should be "the more German the better." But don't let that prohibit you from ordering a Racklett appetizer. A molten portion of Racklett cheese served as a Swiss/Bavarian kind of fondue, it's accompanied by your choice of baguette and fresh fruit (the sliced apples are good for dipping), or the more traditional potatoes and gherkin pickles.

The menu's description of the Frikadellan ($8.95 at lunch) as the "German Hamburger" is momentarily confusing (Hamburg being a German city, after all), but appropriate. The two meat patties, formed with herbs and bread crumbs, are grilled to a hot, juicy consistency that tastes like a hybrid of burger meat and an especially rich slice of meat loaf. Spicy mustard accents the beefy flavor when spread across the slightly crisp exterior. Chopped, fried parsley potatoes accompany this and most other dishes.

The German sausage plate ($9.95 at lunch) lets you pick two among the bratwurst, weiswurst, knockwurst and smoked sausage -- and it can be a surprisingly difficult choice. All the sausage choices are plump, vibrant in color and shiny with juice (but not overly greasy), and have surprisingly subtle levels of flavor. The seared slices of knockwurst prove to be my own favorite. The plate also comes with apple sauerkraut that has a pleasingly fresh and mild taste. (Village Corner's best side dish, however, is the spaetzle -- browned German dumplings with a texture like buttery pasta).

A light lunch option is the Chicken Reuben sandwich ($7.95), which substitutes coleslaw for kraut and includes melted Swiss cheese and an adequate but undistinguished piece of chicken breast. Save room for a cookie or baked good for dessert. We took with us a slice of Hutzelbrot ($3.15), a combination of hazel nuts, apples and figs surrounded by a pastry that tastes like a piece of a giant, fancied-up Fig Newton.

German cuisine is by no means hot-weather food, which may account for its relative scarcity around Atlanta. But with Oktoberfest nigh and Christmas around the corner, it's just the time of year for seeking it out. After Thanksgiving, Stone Mountain village gives itself over to the holiday spirit so completely it's like a town possessed, providing a side attraction to Village Corner. We even spotted two white-bearded potential Kris Kringles sitting down for lunch recently. If Santa Claus himself hangs out there, what more endorsement do you need?

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