Two in One: El Lugar and Alpine Restaurant & Bar Take Over Former Juergen’s Bakery
German fine dining and Spanish tapas, all under one roof? It wasn’t co-owner A.J. Ndreu’s plan from the start, but he’s accomplished it, this week opening up neighboring restaurants El Lugar and Alpine at 525 S. Fourth St., formerly known as Juergen’s Bakery.
“I wanted to do both, not necessarily in the same building, but it just happened that way, which is perfect for me,” says Ndreu, who runs the restaurants with his partners Enis Ndreu and Elidon Hizmo.
This isn’t Ndreu’s first foray into German cuisine; he also owns Wurst und Bier in Worthington, and before he moved to Columbus in 2003, he ran another German restaurant in New York. With family in Germany, he’s traveled there many times. Though he says there’s no shortage of the cuisine in central Ohio, Ndreu says Alpine is the first to offer it with a fine dining twist.
Helping him conceptualize the menu is executive chef Nick Paxton and his consultants, Frankie Bernert and Brian “Tator” Edwards. Together, they’ve crafted a bill of fare that encompasses vorspeisen (appetizers), suppen and salate (soups and salads), meeresfrüchte (seafood), nudelu (pasta), and an array of hauptgang (entrees). There’s also a section of the menu dedicated entirely to käseauswahl (cheese), including their signature Raclette, which is placed under a heater then scraped onto a sampler of crostini, vegetables and sausage.
They’ll serve up brunch on the weekends as well, offering dishes like the Alpine skillet, featuring bratkartoffeln (German fries), sausage, over easy eggs, and mustard hollandaise; the Dutch baby, a German-style pancake baked to order with fruit and crème Chantilly; and a hash and eggs dish made with pastrami hash, mustard crème Fraiche and house-baked bread. Sandwich fans have some options as well, including the classic Reuben and a pork or chicken schnitzel, among others.
“I would say Alpine itself is just really trying to refocus on authentic flavors and authentic cuisine, but then taking our knowledge and what we’ve learned about how to upscale that presentation, and just show that incredible side of what German food can be,” says Paxton. “We wanted to show the diversity German food has — from Austria to Bavaria — all these different places you can go and get different types of cuisine.”
Alpine can seat up to 60 people, offering tables for groups large and small, including a communal-style table in the center that can seat 14. Guests who’d like to move from Alpine to El Lugar can take the long way outdoors, or utilize a door in the middle that joins the two.
Though not intentional, Ndreu says he sees the restaurants feeding off of each other, with guests stopping into El Lugar for the small plates and wine, and moving on to Alpine for dinner and cocktails.
Paxton was also the main brain behind El Lugar’s menu, which features tapas, pinchos (skewers) and sharables. For the concept, Ndreu was inspired by an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain visits a small town outside Barcelona to try a type of canned mussels called Espinaler.
“He was eating canned seafood, and he raved about it,” Ndreu says. “I mean, the way he was talking about it, he’s like, ‘How can any chef compete with what I’m eating right now,’ and I was watching it like, ‘What the hell is he talking about, it’s just canned seafood, right?’”
Ndreu made the trip himself a year later, “and I fell in love with it,” he says.
Seafood is one of the mainstays on the El Lugar menu. Guests can get it pincho-style, in the seared tuna paired with pickled watermelon, or sardines coupled with marinated olives and topped with house-made aioli. Under tapas, there are options like seared scallops with avocado mousse and “citrus supreme” on toasted bread, or the whipped tuna with lemon herb frico and micro greens. And yes, Espinaler is available as well.
Other items include a goat cheese trio skewer; brûléed apricot with boursin cheese and rolled anchovy with capers; and a steak flight offering three meats paired with three wines.
Ndreu says guest favorites will find a permanent spot on the El Lugar menu, but he plans on switching up the rest of the tapas and pinchos on a weekly basis.
El Lugar is a smaller, more intimate space. With a full bar and a collection of two-tops and four-tops, it can seat up to 40. European artist Vasiliev Nini brought the finishing touches to the space with a pencil-drawn mural of Barcelona.
Ndreu says the idea for El Lugar has been in the works for more than five years, and it all came together after a conversation with Juergen’s owner Rosemarie Kiegel.
“I used to come here all the time to buy cream puffs from her, and she was always, ‘Why don’t you take over and do something with it?’” he says. “And then, boom, as soon as I saw this I fell in love. It’s perfect, small, intimate.”
Alpine and El Lugar are open now. They operate from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday.