Review: Hofbräuhaus St. Louis in Belleville
Once upon a time, there was a magical castle across a river where the beer flowed, pretzels and sausages flew out of the kitchen, and polka music oompahed through the night. If that sounds like your kind of fairy tale, make a plan to visit Hofbräuhaus in Belleville. One of a handful of offshoots from the original in Munich, the restaurant and brewery offers a theme park-like Oktoberfest experience year-round – gift shop included.
Calling Hofbräuhaus a castle is only a slight exaggeration. The massive dining hall seats 600 with accommodations for a few hundred more on the patio. The whole place is outfitted with Bavarian flair, including arched blue and white ceilings, long bench seating and a giant German flag backdrop to the stage. Servers wear dirndl and lederhosen.
It’s mostly family-friendly, but increasingly raucous as the night goes on. This is partly due to the cavernous space and more so to nightly live music – it can’t help but be loud. A rotating roster of performers flown in from Germany, Austria and other European countries play a combination of popular hits and traditional German drinking songs, complete with cowbells and an alphorn. I found the transition from “Ein Prosit” to “Desperado” a little jarring, but still fun.
Brewed in accordance with the centuries-old German purity law, five beers (a lager, hefeweizen, dunkel and two seasonal options) are available by the liter or half-liter, served in glass steins. The dunkel, a deep caramel color, is malty but not too heavy. The lager, which Hofbräuhaus has been brewing for centuries, has a good malt-hop balance, making it easy drinking but more flavorful than the average mass-produced American version. Another centuries-old recipe, the hefeweizen has nice fruity notes to complement its wheat-heavy grain bill.
A small selection of wine is also available, as well as cocktails and shots from the full bar. Fair warning: Shots are delivered on a wooden paddle and come with a friendly spanking. Additional German drinking traditions occur throughout the night, including patrons standing on their seats for an enthusiastic Prost! On one visit, the band played the U.S. National Anthem – a puzzling intrusion on all the Bavarian merrymaking.
The large menu features a smorgasbord of German classics. The three-tiered sampler platter, heaped with sausages, pretzels, potato salad and sauerkraut, is the perfect accompaniment to a liter or two of beer. Any restaurant at this scale will have its drawbacks, and there were some misses with the food.
The pretzel, ordered with sides of beer cheese and obatza (in this case, brie mixed with cream cheese, butter and onions), was decent, but the beer cheese appeared to have been sitting a while. The sauerbraten (a marinated pot roast dish) tasted authentic but was a little tough, and the side of spaetzle could have used more seasoning. But considering the size of the operation, everything I tried was pretty solid.
It’s hard not to have a good time when there’s live music and liters of classic German beer. An Oktoberfest fantasy, Hofbräuhaus offers a unique chance to celebrate the holiday whenever you want.
Stephanie Zeilenga is a critic and contributing writer for Sauce Magazine.
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