Friday, February 9, 2007

Hofbrau Haus, Lincoln Road, South Beach

If, at conception, you were offered the chance to be born in another country other than your own, which one would you choose? Italy or France perhaps? Or possibly a beautiful island somewhere in the Caribbean?

One country you may not consider is Germany. But why not? What would it be like to be a German citizen? Not so good if you want to tell funny jokes and watch good television. And definitely not the place to be if you like a freshly waxed leg or armpit. However, despite these minor issues, there are many things that the country should be very proud of - it's wonderful ability to make cars, for one. It's culture too - I hear that Beethoven, Bach and Einstein were hugely successful in their respective areas.

But, of course, Germany's biggest gift to the world is it's beer. And the best part is, the whole country gets to enjoy the party. Here in the USA, our biggest holiday is thanksgiving. We get a day off on Thursday, and if you are lucky, somebody somewhere decides that you get Friday off work too. Brilliant! But is it? In Munich, they have Oktoberfest. Where, for two weeks, everyone drinks lots of beer, and falls off tables. That sounds like much more fun.

The country has also given us some imaginative food. Hamburgers for instance - contrary to popular belief, they are not made with ham at all, but beef!!! Who knew? In fact, they were actually brought to the USA by immigrants from Hamburg, Germany. This was obviously a huge success, because they invited their cousins from Frankfurt, and thus another staple of American cuisine is born.

It was the latter gastronomic experience that I had in mind when my wife and I sat down for a stein or two at the new Hofbrau Haus restaurant on Lincoln Road. Purporting to offer a traditional Teutonic eating and drinking experience, the decor immediately drew us away from the fantasy - it's appearance owed far more to it's predecessor, The Lincoln Road Cafe than it did to anything you will ever see in Germany, or for that matter, Europe.

But we didn't let that bother us, - the menu tempted us with a plethora of delicious looking sausages, schnitzels and soups which we could not wait to enjoy.

My wife started with the potato soup, which was a hearty concoction of potato, mushrooms and sausage. Nothing ground breaking, but better than my unexciting chicken broth. It was during this time that we debated the authenticity of our German dining experience. We couldn't work out the nationality of our waiter, so we asked him where he was from. Cuba, as it turned out. Which, for the uninitiated, is not in Alemania.

The main course was first frustrating. Apparently the chef is very insistent that you can not make any changes to the meals on the menu. Which is fine if you are dining at the Ritz, but Hofbrau Haus is certainly not that, which just makes it annoying.

To give the restaurant its due, the main courses were pretty good. We both enjoyed a selection of different bratwursts, frankfurters and sauerkraut. If it wasn't for what followed next, I would recommend these dishes wholeheartedly. In fact, we asked the waiter to box some of the things we hadn't eaten, and looked forward to sharing them with friends that we would see later.

But, as we waited for the check, we happened to look across to the large window at the front of the restaurant, where we saw what appeared to be some sort of giant bug, walking across the inside of the glass.

Appearances, sadly, were not deceptive, and as my wife screamed, and jumped out of her seat, I contemplated the damage that the sight of a huge cockroach can do to your opinion of a particular restaurant. We decided to not share the rest of our sausages.

If I were you, I would definitely take the time to visit Hofbrau Haus. Have a big beer. Then go to Ms Yips for dinner...

James Norton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The New Times just reviewed the Hofbrau House. Here is the review:

The beverages are totally different: At Hofbräu Beerhall, nearly every table is topped with glasses or mugs filled with golden or amber-hued fluid. At Cafe Maurice, only slightly more delicate stemware is swirled with liquids tinted straw or dark maroon. There are plenty of other dissimilarities as well, so many that it's not hard to see why the French and Germans don't really like each other much. I mean, how many world wars will we need to figure that one out? Too bad. To paraphrase Rodney King: Why can't we just have a schnitzel and quiche and get along?

Now, on South Beach, we can. Not in the same sitting, mind you, but these two newcomers — a bistro and a beer hall — have set up shop within a few miles of one another. Each inherits a space held by popular, longtime, recently deceased SoBe eateries (Cafe Maurice takes over the similarly themed L'Entrecote de Paris, on Washington Avenue just south of Fifth Street, while Hofbräu Beerhall is located where Lincoln Road Cafe used to be). The bistro and beer hall are both fairly inexpensive joints, too, with no entrees costing over twenty bucks. And the two are already overflowing with good cheer, good drinks, and ... food.

Hofbräu had the more difficult remodeling task, transforming a former Cuban eatery into a German one. This was accomplished mostly via blue-and-white checkered Hofbräu München flags draped from the rafters, and colorful framed posters from a decade's worth of Oktoberfests brightening white stucco walls. The place looks cleaner and sleeker than before, but nothing like a beer hall. This is probably a good thing — we don't want to re-create the atmosphere of old-time Germany too closely now, do we?

Most people sit at the outdoor tables, anyway. Under blue umbrellas. Surrounded by green foliage. Lulled into a pleasant complacency by wursts, beer, and music oom-pah-pahing over the speakers. Even so, this feels even less like a biergarten than the indoors conjures a beer hall. In fact, it seems an awful lot like hanging on Lincoln Road.

The original brewery of this name was founded in 1589 by William V, Duke of Bavaria, but the folks running this operation are not your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's Germans. For one thing they are not exactly über-efficient. Anyone who labors under this ethnic stereotype will be thoroughly disabused of the notion while waiting for a menu. Or the check. Or anything, really. There was a stretch of close to five minutes when not a single restaurant worker — neither host, manager, waiter, nor busperson — was spotted in the "garden," although there were about 40 people seated out there.

Bavarian pretzels are known to Americans as "soft pretzels," the type sold at ball games, festivals, circuses, and zoos. Here they are dubbed "freshly baked pretzels imported from Munich" — meaning brought in frozen and heated in an oven. The regular size is listed as $2.95; the "giant original Oktoberfest pretzel" is $6.50. Actual prices, however, are $12.75 and $18.30 respectively, as the salt on either will create a thirst that a minimum of two ten-ounce beers ($4.95 each) will be required to quench.

I'm not kidding.

The dark brown "dark beer sauce" pooled around an order of schweinebraten (roasted pork shoulder) was likewise overly salinated, enough to necessitate at least a seventeen-ounce (half-liter) beer or lager — so add $6.95 to the $16.50 price for this one. Two light but slightly spongy potato dumplings bobbed in the gravy, and on the side was a generous bowl of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots soaked in butter, black pepper, and — "another beer, please!" — too much salt. I have no proof that an insidious business plan is at work here, but during numerous visits we were never offered water.

Nor were we offered bread, although two types of rye are listed a la carte on the menu — German-style and American. They were out of both by 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening. On a Friday visit German rye was available — thin, yeasty, pale brown, and not especially fresh ($1.50). Nothing wrong with those Hofbräu München draft specialties, though — original gold lager, a dark dunkel, and hefe weizen, a cloudy wheat beer. The grand size, a comically tall 34-ounce (one liter) mug, seemingly became heavier to lift as I emptied it.

Wursts are the best things here. "Grilled leberkäse," a sausage loaf composed of finely ground and pressed corned beef, bacon, and onions, isn't grilled but browned in a pan (a common biergarten dish actually called strammer max), accompanied, as is tradition, by a scoop of fresh, warm, parsley-and-vinegared potato salad. If you've ever had a fried bologna sandwich — what's that? Oh, you're not from Brooklyn? Well, it's like you can imagine fried bologna would be, only the loaf-shaped slices are thicker. The 100-percent-veal bratwurst is probably a safer bet for most folks, grilled and served with red cabbage and mashed potatoes. White sausages made from veal and pork, Münchner weisswurste, brought two plump poached dogs huddled around a black plastic cup of sweet Munich mustard, with a Bavarian pretzel on top.