[Watches the History Channel for 5 minutes.]
Oh. Well, there's all that. But everyone I talk to who's been to Germany raves about the warmth and good spirit of the people they encounter. Some say Germans even actually like to have fun! To investigate, we went to Philly's own outpost of all things Teutonic, the semi-recently-opened Brauhaus Schmitz, on the occasion of our half-German friend's birthday.
Not having ever been to an authentic German beer hall, I can't speak to the space's authenticity, but it certainly rings true enough. Simple, noisy, lots of wood, waitresses wearing dirndls (think St. Pauli Girl's getup). And as a nice touch, a large rendering of the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law, hangs as a helpful reminder about what beer ought to be made of (barley, water, and hops – they weren't aware of yeast's existence back then in 1516).
Though a lot has changed in the almost 500 intervening years, the fact that "beer is good" has remained constant, and in this respect the Brauhaus does not disappoint. There are twenty selections on draught, most of them German (the house beer is Stoudt's Gold from right here in PA, which is at least German-style), and the menu provides very helpful descriptions to help you make your decision. What's more, there is an array of comical vessels out of which you may choose to drink your beer: the beer garden-style one-liter "giant glass mug"; the one-liter "boot", or the two-liter "giant boot". The boots are quite popular, so get there early if you want to make a fool of yourself, though be advised that according to our waitress, the two-liter boot is meant to be shared and passed around the table as a sort of drinking game. I went for a one-liter of the Warsteiner which proved adequate for the night's drinking needs.
Now, the food. The sense I get is that German beer-hall food is something that you need to deal with on its own terms. Don't expect a great deal of sophistication, subtlety, or culinary artistry. Do expect a giant slab of meat, which may or may not have been ground up and forced into a tube, served with a side of vegetables that have either been fried, pickled, made into some sort of dumpling, or all of the above.
In this context, the food at Brauhaus is quite good. Ingredients are fresh and preparations are well-executed. And portions certainly are ample, which justifies the hovering-around-$20 price for the entrees. This time out I had the
cotoletta alla milanese Wiener Schnitzel, which of course is a veal cutlet, pounded flat, breaded and fried and served with a squeeze of lemon. The breading was nice and the cutlet was tasty, though I wish it had been pounded out a little more thoroughly and evenly, as there were some undercooked spots here and there. Lauren had the sauerbraten, the slow-cooked beef pot roast that's first marinated in vinegar. It was deliciously fall-aparty and flavorful from the marinade and sauce.
Our birthday friend ordered the star of the menu, in my opinion: the Schweinshaxe, which quite literally is the "swine hock" it would sound like it is. It's rotisserie-roasted until the meat is meltingly tender and the skin on the outside becomes gloriously crackly. And its size will present a challenge to even the most ardent pork-lover.
On a previous trip to the Brauhaus, I had tried a few of the sausages, which while tasty are not especially noteworthy. The Nürnberger Bratwurst is homemade, and the Bauernwurst is somewhat interesting as it is made of smoked beef and pork.
Not to be overlooked are the two sides that you get to choose to go along with your entree. The red cabbage is probably my favorite, sweet and tangy with vinegar and aromatic with spice. The Spätzle is quite good as well, as these little egg dumplings manage to be light even as they swim in melted butter. A taste of the sauerkraut was surprising in its smokey note and unlike anything you've ever put on a hot dog, and the fun-to-say Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) were better than any of the pre-fab monstrosities I've had at delis around here.
Good food, good beer, good friends – some combination of those valuable things and the relaxed atmosphere at the Brauhaus leads to having fun. Maybe part of it is the simplicity and honesty of the food; somehow not having to worry about high-precision, high-concept cooking results in a laid-back meal. Whatever the case, Brauhaus Schmitz is worth a shot.