My brother, Vince, had raved about a local (Rochester, NY) German restaurant he visited for lunch several times. He really wanted me to check it out. Finally, on the day after Thanksgiving, I went with him and his family for lunch. What a treat it was! If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Swan Market, at 231 Parsells Ave. in Rochester, NY, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Admittedly, as an Italian-American, I don’t often experience German food, let alone authentic German cuisine. So, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect at Swan Market. Yes, I checked out their web site prior to our visit to get a better idea of their culinary fare. I also heeded my brother’s warning that it was a cozy space, where you’ll probably sit next to someone you don’t yet know, at a communal seating table. I was ready, I was willing, and I was excited!
When we walked in, I was immediately overwhelmed. My senses were on high alert. I could hear the live accordion music above the din of the guests, smell the wonderful aromas of authentic German food, see the line snaking along the side wall almost to the door, and feel my stomach start to rumble as a result of all of this. I stood in line, slowly taking it all in. Standing directly behind seated patrons enjoying their lunch, I scanned the menu board above the deli case, trying to decipher the decidedly German menu (not in German language, but it might as well as have been!). I noticed the fully stocked deli case and the busy employees taking orders for the various specialties from the case as well.
It took only a few minutes to work our way up to the front of the line, where we requested seating for five. We quickly were shown to five seats at the end of a table, perfectly positioned in front of the deli case. We were in the back of the market, away from the constantly opening front door.
What a delight it was!
Owner Barry Fischer acquired the business in 2000, after leaving behind his many years at Wegmans. Barry, who apprenticed with German master butchers, expanded the selection of sausage to Chorizo, Andouille, bangers, Italian and Cajun sausage, and currywurst. He then later added a lunch service, which has a local, cult-like following.
The German fare at Swan Market is so genuine that a friend of mine who is a high school language teacher said that the German teacher in her department takes the German language students there every year, as a field trip!
Upon approaching the small, brick building, you wouldn’t guess that this unassuming market housed such a bustling and popular German food destination. Located in a primarily residential area, it sits inconspicuously near a busy side street intersection. Patrons park along the front curb or on nearby side streets.
The inside of Swan Market is alarmingly small, but surprising cozy, with a deli counter at the back of the room, and a checkout counter along one wall. The line of hungry but patient patrons snakes around the other side wall, with long, communal tables in the middle of the room.
With seating for about 40 people, a seat for lunch is a coveted prize. Almost all the wall real estate is adorned with random pictures, bric-à-brac, obscure trinkets, charming baubles and antique signage, all reminiscent of a simpler era. The Christmas table cloths and outdoor decor brought inside all lent a charming feel.
The atmosphere at Swan Market is decidedly cheerful and welcoming. I would compare it to a German deli version of Cheers Bar, as I half expected Norm to walk in at any moment and take his appointed seat. Cliff, the postal worker, would soon follow.
I noticed that everyone seemed happy to converse with their communal table neighbors or even sing along with the accordion player. In fact, mark your calendars for the last Thursday and Friday of every month when you can enjoy a lunchtime stein of German imported beer and listen to your favorite live polkas.
A carved wooden sign propped up on the deli counter caught my eye. It said, “Vegetarian is an old Indian word for ‘bad hunter.’ ” That gives you an idea of the lively atmosphere!
Swan Market started out as a German Deli, and it has kept true to those roots. They proudly offer a large selection of over fifty deli items, in the following categories:
- cold cuts
- smoke hams
- fresh meats
- specialty meats
- homemade side dishes
View their entire list of products offered at the deli counter. Shown to the right is a picture I snapped of one part of the deli case, featuring several varieties of homemade sausage.
Swan Market’s menu is a veritable cornucopia of authentic German goodness. Lunches are served Wednesday through Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm. You can view their lunch menu online. I agree with my brother, who suggests that you get there either at the beginning or end of the lunch service; that will be the best time to easily snag a highly sought-after seat.
Homemade sausage offerings include Bratwurst, Bauenwurst, Weiswurst, Knockwurst, Bockwurst, Cajun and Weiner. Can’t decide which one to order? Then go with the Wurst Platter (shown below), which includes a choice of two sausages and two sides. They make all of their sausage in-house and smoke all of their meat on site.
Other main dish specialties from Swan Market, which vary from day-to-day, include:
- Schnitzel – sliced pork with breadcrumbs, fried
- Jager Schnitzel – schnitzel smothered in a mushroom sauce
- Rahm Schnitzel – fried, unbreaded pork cutlet with creamy mushroom gravy
- Hungarian Goulasch – pork and beef stew in a paprika-spiced gravy
- Sauerbraten – thinly sliced beef marinated in a vinegar-based gravy
Don’t forget the soup, sides and desserts, which include:
- Soup – one soup featured each week
- Sausage Appetizer Platter
- German Potato Salad – I read that they prepare about 200 pounds of potato salad each week!
- Red Cabbage
- Torte of the Day: Black Forest, Hazelnut, Vanilla and Almond, Cheesecake
And to drink with your lunch? An imported German beer of course! Swan Market has four taps on at all times, which are constantly rotated. A nice cold glass or stein of frothy, icy beer is the perfect complement to a delectable lunch. Additionally, you can order from a wide selection of bottled German beer. For those of us who are not as well versed in drinking German beer, water is always a safe option.
Are you in need of a caterer? Swan Market can cater events of any size, from cold cut trays to a pig roast. They offer a full range of authentic German main dishes and side dishes.
Our Lunch Order
Still a bit dazed from all the unfamiliar lunch choices, I took my brother’s advice and ordered the Schnitzel. Soon after we were seated and gave our order, our friendly waitress bought us complementary sliced rye bread with butter and mustard, for spreading. We dug into that while we waited for our lunch orders to arrive. All five of us ordered the same main dish – Schnitzel, but we each ordered a different variation of two sides. I ordered my Schnitzel with Spaetzle (buttered noodles with gravy), and German potato salad, priced at a very reasonable $7.50. Yes, this was a carb overload to be sure, but so worth it! Shown below is a photo of my amazing Schnitzel lunch dish.
I truly enjoyed my lunch. The sliced pork schnitzel was tender and flavorful. The spaetzle noodles were a tasty surprise – they were cooked al dente and were heavier and more dense than i expected. For such an unassuming looking little noodle, they sure packed a punch of flavor and texture. I was really satisfied with the German potato salad too. I have to admit that the only experience I have with German potato salad is the kind from a tin can; served cold and tasting rather over processed. This potato salad, however, was completely different. It was served hot and it didn’t have the overwhelming vinegar aftertaste which I expected. Instead, it was perfectly seasoned and quite tasty.
My lunch companions ordered other sides with their lunches, including various sausages and red cabbage. I tried a bit of each and liked them. However, I think that I made a good choice with my two sides. They all had good things to say about their lunches, and we all agreed that this was a great place to visit again.
Although Swan Market offers a Torte of the Day dessert, we were too full to indulge. I will put that on my must try list for my next visit (maybe with soup too?).
The service at Swan Market is top notch, for both the deli customers and the lunch patrons. Upon being seated, a waitress quickly greeted us and took our drink orders. The drinks were delivered quickly, along with a pitcher of water for the group to share. Our food was also delivered quickly, and it was piping hot. When asked about the ingredients in one of the sides, the waitress promised to find out for us. She returned, keeping her promise, and confidently relayed an answer to our question. We were brought extra napkins when asked and more water when our pitcher ran dry. Our waitress inquired about a beer refill at just the right time.
My brother approached our waitress about a purchase from the deli counter. She happily took his order and brought the food to him, packaged and ready to go. It did take a bit of time, no doubt because of the lunchtime rush. Overall, she made it very easy for him to make the additional purchase, without having to wait in line again.
Patrons make payment at a small cash register stationed at a table along one side of the restaurant. At the register counter, you can also pick up a Swan Market calendar and other goodies. The gentleman cashier thanked us for our patronage and invited us to stop back in. The friendly service was consistent throughout our entire visit.
My visit to Swan Market exceeded my expectations, even after my brother had done such a good job of building it up in my mind. In fact, my brother had this to say about Swan Market,
“Swans is the real McCoy; authentic German deli products and heart
warming lunch fare, all in a unique, old world environment.”
It is truly one of the last neighborhood delis where you can get a delicious and authentic German lunch, listen to live German polkas from an accordion player, and take home some food specialities to enjoy later. The friendly staff and warm atmosphere will bring you in, and the fine food will keep you going back.
I would recommend Swan Market to anyone who wants a unique German experience without having to leave Rochester, New York. It’s a true gem.
If you go:
231 Parsells Ave.
Rochester, NY 14609
– Deli Counter: Wed-Fri: 8am-5pm, Sat: 8am-2pm
– Restaurant: Wed-Sat: 11am-2pm
Meals Served: Lunch
Children’s Menu: No
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Handicap Accessible: Yes, but a tight fit
Requires Reservations: No
Table Service: Yes
Take Out: Yes
Outdoor Seating: No
Parking: Free and plentiful curbside
Valet Service: No
Bar Seating: No
Coat Check: No
Date opened: Circa 1920s
Date visited: Friday, November 28, 2014