As much as things change, there's certain comfort when things don't. Take Dunderbak's Market Cafe, for instance.
This restaurant has been part of the Lehigh Valley Mall's landscape since the mall opened in the late 1970s. The eatery's still in the same spot near Macy's, and it's still dishing out the same German-style fare.
For more than two decades, mallgoers have counted on Dunderbak's for snacks, meals and respite from the rigors of shopping as sport. And Dunderbak's has delivered.
My recent visit there confirms that the restaurant is still going strong, for good reason.
The sandwiches are good and prices are reasonable; the service is friendly speedy, too, from my experience and, on top of it all, the ambience is pleasant.
There's a happy sensibility about Dunderbak's. Perhaps it's the yellow-striped canvas awning that's draped across the ceiling it does a pretty good job of setting the stage as a party tent.
Or perhaps it's the bright yellow-and-blue tile tabletops, or the evergreen garlands strung with white lights that crisscross the ceiling.
Surely the music, lively with an oompah-band beat, makes a major contribution to the restaurant's atmosphere of an outdoor cafe during a Bavarian beer festival.
In the midst of this casual and easy-going style, the menu that focuses mostly on sandwich-style fare fits naturally. There are ciabatta sandwiches, pita sandwiches, traditional deli selections, hamburgers, wraps, double deckers and a number of grilled wursts.
Dinners such as ''pork mit kraut,'' grilled meat loaf, beer-battered shrimp and hot roast beef sandwiches are offered as well, along with salads and soups.
On an evening visit, we splurged on Dunderbak's ''Mega Munchie Combo'' for a well-rounded sampling of starter selections: onion rings, pierogies, chicken fingers, ''pretzarella stix'' and bite-sized potato pancakes. These standard-fare munchies were deep-fried, but surprisingly, and thankfully, not at all greasy.
Most interesting in this smorgasbord of nibbles were the pretzarella stix (logs of mozzarella covered with a crunchy pretzel coating) the pretzel texture worked well in juxtaposition with the creamy cheese.
A trio of dipping sauces honey mustard, Cajun and sour cream added welcome flavor notes to a sort of sameness created by the common preparation.
A grilled sandwich, ''The Sailor,'' was quite enjoyable. Butterflied knockwurst topped with pastrami, weinkraut and Swiss cheese on a lightly grilled ciabatta roll combined the knockwurst's juiciness with the salty sense of weinkraut, the complexity of pastrami and the creaminess of melted cheese. Ciabatta, a fitting, dense base, added counterpoint texture.
In the accompanying German potato salad, the smoky sense of bacon enhanced slices of potato in a dressing that added sour notes of flavor in a savory way.
Wienerschnitzel, the traditional German dish, was standard fare. The accompanying red cabbage was more enjoyable; its sweet-and-sour preparation offered crunchy texture, along with great flavor. Mashed potatoes, while tasty, were lukewarm, at best.
A lunchtime visit focused entirely on sandwiches. Dunderbak's double deckers, described as ''mealwiches,'' feature combinations of meats and three slices of bread; they are unquestionably more than a mouthful.
The ''King Ludwig'' was a fine sandwich: A bottom layer of smoked ham and Swiss cheese with a top layer of turkey, cranberry sauce, lettuce and tomato. The sweetish cranberry sauce was good balance to the salty ham, and lettuce provided texture. The sandwich would have been even better, however, without wimpy winter tomatoes.
A companion's deli favorite, the Reuben sandwich made with grilled turkey instead of corned beef was a winner. The classic combination of meat with Swiss cheese, ''weinkraut'' and Thousand Island dressing, warm from grilling, is a hard one to beat.
Another lunchtime visit found me waiting in the omnipresent Saturday afternoon ''take-out'' hot dog line that crowds the tables in the court outside Macy's. My plumped ''all beef'' dog was fine; bean and sausage soup, on the other hand, was lacking. I found few beans, no seasoning, and the meat seemed more hot dog- than sausage-like to me.
Over the course of my visits to Dunderbak's, I also sampled German chocolate cake and ''Mrs. D's'' apple dumpling.
The former, prepared traditionally with caramel coconut frosting, was standard fare, but served so cold that some bites seemed frozen.
On the other hand, the apple dumpling, served warm, would have benefited from the temperature counterpoint of vanilla ice cream, rather than its accompanying mound of whipped cream.
Susan Gottshall is a freelance restaurant reviewer for Go Guide. Gottshall, who tells it like it is, attempts to remain anonymous during restaurant visits. All meals are paid for by The Morning Call.
Linda O'Connell, Assistant
Managing Editor, Features
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