First-time visitors to the new German’s Soup in Crown Heights would be well-advised to order the cow heel soup. It’s a meal of a soup, says owner Clinton Urling, consisting of tender cow’s foot meat and the fatty cooking liquid stirred into a split pea base for a thick, almost sticky consistency. It’s German’s signature, made from the same recipe as the one that still feeds hundreds of customers a day at the original German’s, in Guyana’s capital of Georgetown. Only Urling and his brother, Hubert Jr., know how to make it, and no one, he said, makes it quite as well.
German’s Soup is much more than a restaurant; it’s a Guyanese institution, with a 60-year legacy. Opened by Urling’s father, Hubert “German” Urling, in 1960, it first opened in the working class neighborhood of Tigerbay in Georgetown, where it supplied nearby laborers with a hot meal at lunchtime.
“I remember coming home from school to get lunch, and there were like tons and tons of people in the big restaurant,” Urling said. “That entire hundred-seat was all filled at lunchtime.”
The franchise grew so popular that Hubert Sr. was forced to expand into a second, bigger space across the street. When Hubert Sr. died in 1999, Urling and his brother barely hesitated to take over the business. “I had no choice,” Urling said. I had to focus on the restaurant, or it closed, you know?” If German’s closed, he said, “It would have definitely left a huge void in the cultural landscape.” He even left his highly demanding civil engineering program for an easier course so he could spend more time at the restaurant.
In 2018, when Urling came to New York for a Master’s program at Columbia University, he decided to bring his soups stateside. The new spot, which opened in East Flatbush, had an almost built-in customer base; Guyanese people know German’s, Urling said, and New York has the largest population of Guyanese outside of Guyana.
“There were so many people coming in that restaurant, just because they had a story or a memory of German’s Restaurant in Guyana.”
Many of those memories also centered on his father.
“He’s still selling food, he’s still promoting, marketing this restaurant,” Urling said. “His legacy still lives on.”
The Crown Heights menu is the same as the one at the East Flatbush German’s, which was almost indistinguishable from the original, save for a few small additions, Urling said. At the new restaurant, he serves Guyanese Creole specialties like Eggball, an egg wrapped in mashed yucca and deep-fried, curry chicken with roti, pholourie (fritters made from split pea batter) and Chinese-influenced dishes like lo mein, common in Guyana due to its large diasporic Chinese population.
Around Christmas, they also serve bowls of Pepper Pot, a dark, warmly spiced stew made with boiled yucca syrup, called cassareep, and a short dessert menu consists of a treat called milk fudge, as well as fried cinnamon pastry sticks called mittai. To drink, there’s housemade mauby, a Caribbean drink made of mauby tree bark fermented with sugar and spices and served over ice.
Still, the soups remain the mainstay. Made from the same split pea base, the soups can be ordered with cow heel, of course, as well as chicken, beef, or entirely meatless, and served with either a mix of starchy vegetables, called ground provisions, or white rice. Guyanese and other Caribbean customers come year-round seeking a bowl of steaming nostalgia, but especially during the harsh New York winters.
“The other stuff, you can pick it up in different restaurants,” Urling said. “But our soups, you can’t get that anywhere.”
Visit the new location of German’s Soup at 410 Utica Avenue in Crown Heights