Posted On: 02/01/2012
Rhine Haus Eatery & Pub
255 Union Blvd., St. Louis, 314.367.1710
Entree prices: $12 to $17
During the 19th century, upstanding Protestant Americans were horrified when German immigrants recreated the traditional beer gardens and halls in their new home. The German bar soon became the root that sustained a town or village – a place where friends and neighbors gathered to grab a pint and the local gossip.
Two centuries later, Rhine Haus Eatery and Pub successfully attempts to do the same at its location just north of Forest Park in the old Turveys on the Green space. Think neoclassical construction-turned-sports bar with a hint of 21st-century Euro-trash with a spacious bar, 23 flat-screen TVs, cheap foam benches and lots of cool bar games.
Both times we visited, the industrious bartender warmly invited us in, told us to grab any seat and guided an excellent beer into our hands. Knowledgeable about what’s on tap and helpful with advice, she wasn’t pushy or pretentious in her choices; these were simply her favorites. “If you liked the Hopfen, then you would certainly like the Hacker-Pschorr.” And we did. With pints at around $5, liters at $11 and the Das boot (a 2-liter boot-shaped glass) at $23, Rhine Haus should become a favorite pilgrimage for those walking the park.
The bratwurst dumplings were divine – showcasing coarsely ground sausage seasoned well with mustard, onion, red pepper flakes and a whisper of nutmeg, all tucked inside a wonton wrapper and flash-fried. They arrived piping hot with honey-brown grain mustard, a traditional yellow variety and a spicy horseradish sauce, whose piquancy cut through the fat of the dumpling. The Rhine Wings were tossed in a bright, cayenne-based hot sauce that brought good heat and nice acidity. But the accompanying blue cheese dressing lacked zip and any blue cheese to mention.
Also disappointing: the beer-cheese dip. Frozen pretzel bites were fried, resulting in a chewy interior and boil-like polyps on the exterior. Served beside a bowl of tepid Velveeta-like goo that had been warmed with a hint of beer, these weren’t the handmade pretzels with creamy béchamel fortified with fermented hops and pungent beer kaese we hoped for.
Dan found salvation in the pork schnitzel, a breaded pork loin, subtley seasoned and fried to delicate perfection. But the boys argued for burgers, each half-pound patty shaped by hand and grilled beautifully to temperature. The Brewhoff BBQ Burger sported crisp bacon with a light smokiness, a decent winter tomato, traditional Memphis-style BBQ sauce and fried onion straws on a kaiser bun. The Frickadellen added ground pork to the patty mixture, producing a slightly lighter, more refined flavor. But the showstopper was the Bavarian Burger, a beef patty nestled under a perfectly grilled weisswurst – a mild white morning sausage made from veal and fresh bacon that had been subbed in for bratwurst. Harder to find, this traditional Bavarian sausage is typically seasoned with parsley, lemon, onions and mace, giving it a lighter flavor and finer texture than a traditional brat.
With entrees and burgers you choose from a number of sides, the most worthy of which are the potato dumplings. A mixture of soft, mashed potato was forced from a pastry bag and fried, producing golden nuggets of warm potato goodness. Fries were notable as well; crisp and seasoned with celery salt and black pepper. The sauerkraut was thinly shredded and refreshingly pickled; perfect with Dan’s schnitzel or a brat. And while the braised red cabbage was slightly too sweet, it worked well with house-made potato pancakes. A little more attention paid to the fryer could’ve salvaged the cakes’ slight step to the dark side.
Skip the Rouladen and the spaetzle. The Rouladen – a top sirloin rolled with sauerkraut and cabbage – was chewy and one-note. The accompanying carrots and under-sauteed onions did it no favors, either. The house spaetzle had been frozen and fried – tough, chewy nibbles of dough that were redundantly greasy.
The potato soup, meanwhile, is a creamy, satiny purée that, when finished with crumbled bacon and green onions, will invigorate any hungry park-goer. Skip the salads, laden with iceberg masquerading as “mixed greens,” and opt instead for dessert – namely the German chocolate cake. This triple-decker confection is closer to a brownie than cake in texture and covered in buttery, coconut cream icing.
Rhine Haus beckons you to slow down, sit a while and drink a liter of your favorite German brew. The friendly waitresses worked tirelessly serving our crew, and we enjoyed catching up on the games. Come summer, diners will no doubt stop in on their way from the park for a beer on the expansive patio out front. And, if they’re smart, some dumplings and chocolate cake.
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