Thursday, May 22, 2003

Food goes way beyond wurst

German fare mingles with American dishes

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

You cannot just eat dinner at Hofbrauhaus. Everything about the place conspires to turn you a little German for the evening.

When Jack Frost starts playing German songs on the accordion, with the brass ensemble oom-pah-pahing behind him, you will find it impossible not to start swinging your beer mug from side to side in time with the music.

Hofbrauhaus Newport
Value: Good
Service: Fair
Atmosphere: Fair
What: American location of authentic Bavarian beer hall and restaurant.
Where: Third and Saratoga streets, Newport.
When: Kitchen 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday and noon-10 p.m. Sunday. Bar open until 2 a.m. Monday-Saturday and midnight Sunday.
Vegetarian choices: Poor - Pretzels, fried pickles, salad, fettuccine alfredo.
Recommended dishes: Pretzels, Kasseler Rippchen, Munchener Schweinshaxe.
Prices: Appetizers $4.99-$8.99, entrees $8.99-$18.99, desserts $3.99-$5.99.
Paying for it: Discover, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diners.
Sound level: Extremely loud.
Reservations: Not taken.
Miscellaneous: Accessible to disabled, no non-smoking section.
Phone: (859) 491-7200.
Reviews are done anonymously at Enquirer expense. Ratings take into consideration quality of food, service, presentation and atmosphere, balanced against price.
The whole big place sets the scene, from the long sturdy wooden tables where you'll sit next to people you haven't met, to the gleaming copper brew vats turning out beer from centuries-old recipes, to the heavy glass steins the beer's served in. Bavarian flags and attractive hints of alpine wood carving complete the decor.

Lack of subtlety

The food hits a commendable balance between traditional Bavarian specialties and familiar American dishes, from cheeseburgers to chicken wings. I tried an assortment of German dishes, and found some fine ones, though all confirmed the common prejudice that German food is heavy, filling and not especially subtle.

If you just want a snack to go with beer, you can't beat the pretzels with bier cheese ($6.99). The big pretzels are soft and springy, a little crisp on the outside, and salted, but not too much. The bier cheese for dipping is a little bland, but altogether it makes a good snack or a first course.

Weisswurste are native to Munich, and quite unlike most sausages. They're poached and served in a white ceramic crock full of hot water that preserves their delicate taste and texture. They're mostly mild veal, with a touch of parsley herbalness. A dab of sweet mustard from a little crock is just the right amount of extra flavor.

On your first visit at least, order the wurstlteller ($9.99), a combination plate with one each of the wiener, brat and bierwurst. The wiener will strike you at first as a hot dog, and so it is, but a very high-quality dog, without the overly salty, nitrate flavors of the grocery store variety. If I identified the other two sausages correctly, the juicy bierwurst was our favorite, with a chunky texture and a little hot spice. The wurstlteller comes with very smooth but not especially rich mashed potatoes, good mild kraut with just a bit of crunch and delicious cabbage, chopped and fried with bits of bacon.

The most striking specialty of the Hofbrauhaus kitchen is the Munchener Schweinshaxe ($11.99 half, $16.99 whole; half portion strongly recommended.) This is a pork shank roasted with the skin on, which turns to crackling. It positively hulks on the plate, daring you to try to eat it all. Some of the meat was dry, but the parts near the bone and right under the skin were delicious. It comes with a spongy and tasteless baseball-size potato dumpling and a dry bread dumpling, not the best side dishes. That's OK; there's also the good sauerkraut and the vegetable of the day, which was fresh snow peas when I was there.

Kasseler Rippchen ( $12.99) are smoked center-cut pork chops, and they taste assertively, and most deliciously, of the smokehouse, but keep a plump, pink tenderness.

There are four schnitzels, all pork. We tried jagerschnitzel, topped with lots of mushrooms and a dark hunter's sauce ($10.99). It was plate-size, fairly thick as schnitzels go, and in a breading that was a little too heavy and a little too darkly fried to pass a rigorous schnitzel test. It was hot and crisp and completely edible, however.

Tasty desserts

The idea of dessert after all this, plus big steins of weissbier, seemed laughable, but we tried the apfelstrudle ($5.99), which came in four slices, surrounded by a vanilla custard sauce. The pastry could have been crisper, but the apples were good.

Service is a challenge in a place where the decibel level made my party of four resort to written messages. Pointing to the menu is necessary to distinguish between Wiener schnitzel and wienerwurst. One entree came 10 minutes after the others, but for early into an operation this big, that's understandable.


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