Tours: Culinary Crusade
By OUTTraveler Editors
It's a little known secret of jetsetters, but calories don't count when traveling. It's true! Just like breaking a cookie into pieces makes them all leak out. And it's a good fact to know. Because when hitting up Europe's Gay Greats, there's practically an unending buffet of options for getting your eat and drink on whether you're craving haute cuisine, a divey hideout, or chill venue to cruise on the locals.
Start off your carnival of consumption in Berlin, where the once-bifurcated capital of Germany has bounced back as Europe's queer bohemian paradise. In Schöneberg, Raststätte Gnadenbrot is a good intro to both Berlin's past (the restaurant dishes up former GDR faves) and its hipster future (it's modeled after a truck-stop diner on the autobahn). Come for the homoerotic gimmickry, stay for the home-cooked gastronomy! Meanwhile, Cookies Cream melds nightlife and noshing into quite possibly the hippest herbivore canteen on the planet (parmesan dumplings, mmm…) and, like ultra-now club Cookies, it adheres to the if-you-can't-find-it-you-weren't-meant-to-be-here entrance policy. Kreuzberg's Little Otik brings a more democratic a.k.a. American approach to its farm-to-table cooking with a daily-changing menu (ribeye with bone marrow butter, Jerusalem artichokes) and a rustic wooden decor. (Check out gay chef/owners/expat couple Jeffrey and Kevin's must-do picks in the city, here.) And no trip to the German capital would be complete without some street meat: currywurst at Curry 36, döner kebab and homemade lamb dumplings at Evim, roast chicken at Hühnerhaus. Post-bar or anytime, dining on the cheap can be sublime.
Over in Amsterdam, the nation's maritime history brings a rich stew of culinary influences, as well as that famous Dutch tolerance. Except for one thing: tourists in the city's famous "coffee houses". Toke up before a new law takes effect, if only to unleash an even bigger appetite at De Kas. Dutch for "greenhouse," it takes farm-to-table dining to its logical end: meals served in an actual greenhouse with a menu determined by its organic harvest. Seafood lovers can't miss Stork in the city's industrial north, where a former steel plant (one wall open to the vast Het IJ canal) dishes up simple but stunning preparations of the freshest North Sea catch. Scenesters flock to Lion Noir, where its French-Asian fusion cuisine and quality cocktail menu (a trendlet just taking hold) keep the place pumping. It doesn't hurt that it's smack in the middle of the gayest street in town: the bar-lined de Reguliersdwarsstraat. For more bustle with your bite, the Westergasfabriek is another former industrial site turned melange of eateries, bars, galleries and cinema, while Winkel 43 offers the choicest slice of apple pie after trinket shopping on the Noordermarkt.
Nearby in Antwerp, its chefs are rivaling its fashion designers for creative cred. As one of the Flemish Primitives, a culinary movement to reinvent and elevate Belgian cuisine through science and bravado, Chef Dave De Belder has been keeping De Godevaart a buzz with what fans call a "catwalk on a plate." Meanwhile at Graanmarkt 13, high-powered hipster locals bring the scene—as well as hearty French/Belgian fare like ox, pigeon, and pig's cheek—to a fashion power couple's grand manor house turned über-trendy shop-cum-gallery-cum-restaurant. For fine dining alongside Antwerp's fashion elite, there's no better address. Unless of course you're above it all, literally. The double Michelin-starred restaurant 't Zilte crowns the city's coolest new museum, MAS in the heart of Antwerp's trendifying docklands area. The view is almost as sumptuous as the scallops served with cauliflower, haddock, khorasan wheat, and East Indian cherry. But when all that haute has you craving the comfort of fish 'n' chips or a burger, pack it in with the locals at nearby Felixpakhuis, especially during their Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch. The multi-functional cultural complex includes a concert/recital hall, living room/library, and a massive outdoor terrace with great views of the marina.
By this time, you'll probably be in need of some new duds—that tight feeling? Your clothes shrunk in the wash, of course—and Zürich has just the place: Companys Outlet im Viadukt, a discounted fashion emporium at the hip collection of restaurants, shops, and lounges set under reclaimed railway arches. But if it's a salad detox you crave instead, you can't go wrong at Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe (since 1898). Another old-timer that still pulls them in with wisps of that "old Banker's Zürich" civility is Kronenhalle. Once a haunt for musicians, actors, and artists who paid for their Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (sliced veal in gravy) with artwork, it does indeed house a Miro meditating over your meal. For an altogether different view of the city—35 floors up in Switzerland's tallest building, Prime Tower—Clouds restaurant has been booked solid since it opened earlier this year. If you can't score a dinner cancellation, lunch can be a sure bet for its stylish Spanish and Italian cuisine. Also in Zürich-West, Times Restaurant & Store exudes low-key cool. Before tucking into bread salad with seafood or braised pork belly, shop for crockery, chairs, carafes or clocks.
Summers in Stockholm mean skinny dipping in the city center or sunbathing on Djürgarden, so you might want to try out a liquid diet while here. And
the floating Mälarpaviljongen
is the place to do it, with nibbles, too, should the solid hunger strike. Warning: it's packed from 6pm till midnight, so play the tourist card and trans hostess Natasha will take great care of you. If you want to be close to the club action, specifically Wednesday's Hump party at the F12 Terrasen, book a table at its Michelin-starred namesake, Fredsgatan 12. The sensational cuisine has been keeping other restauranteurs on their toes for years. For downmarket deelish, join football fans (and the occasional Skarsgård) pounding brews and traditional Swedish fare like meatballs and Biff Rydberg at Kvarnen. Or D.I.Y. a picnic from a visit to the Östermalms Saluhall, its stalls bursting with ready-made meals, breads, cheeses, meat, fruits, and, of course, a hundred types of home-cured herring. For a brasserie meets fish market twist, pick the fish, sauce and sides in personal consultation with the chef at B.A.R., super-fresh simplicity being your muse. Think garickly fennel, salty langoustines, and haddock with caviar sour cream sauce.
Finish off your culinary love affair in Copenhagen, where the city's white hot grastronomic landscape continues to secure headlines. If you can't score a reservation at Noma, the two-time "Best Restaurant in the World" winner for chef René Redzepi's innovative riffs on authentic Nordic cuisine (sweet shrimp with ground starfish "sand," anyone?), then skip the 12-course tasting menu and head to Restaurant Radio instead. Young guns Jesper Kirketerp and Rasmus Kliim worship at the New Nordic trinity of seasonal, local, or organic –- even growing some food themselves –- but in unpretentious surroundings and reasonable prices. If you're craving after dinner cocktails, try an Absolutely Fabulous (vodka, cranberry, and champagne, natch) at multipurpose, queer, hipster haunt Karriere. And if you're craving a taste of Denmark's iconic ‘smørrebrød' (open-faced sandwiches on dark rye-bread), the gay-owned Schønnemann plates 'em up with passion. You might even spot Redzepi bringing out-of-town friends by to introduce them to the Danish classic. But whatever you eat, the city's best dessert is its robust bike share system, the way to cruise like a local. Calories might not count while traveling but it doesn't hurt to hedge your bets.