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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Munich: The Good, the Bad and the Malty

We arrived at our hotel in Munich during the middle of the taping of what we were told was “German Idol," so we were among fresh hopeful faces and cameras during our stay. We were filled with as much anticipation as the contestants because of another young face -- our youngest daughter, Brhea, would be joining us for this leg of our journey.

Brhea is a senior at Loyola University in Chicago and is studying this semester in Rome. She is writing an interesting travel blog – Lyke2Travel – that has some great photography.

While in Munich we got back on a beer theme and managed to visit several of the famed beer halls in the old section of the city, plus have a couple of beers at other spots along the way. Munich is in many ways like Beer Disneyland. There are plenty of fun and great things about Disney theme parks. There are also things that can tend to not to be so great. No matter your opinion of the experience, you soon realize that Disney does one thing very well – it attracts people and coverts them into paying customers. That's Munich, where beer halls take up major chunks of prime real estate and seat hundreds -- in some cases thousands -- of thirsty locals and tourists.

As you walk the streets of Munich, you will pass by the likes of Ayingers, Paulaner, Schneider Weisse and Hacker Pschorr, among others. All have a steady stream of customers to their unique combination of restaurant and beer marketing operation. We managed to stop at three for meals and we batted .667 in the experience.

Hofbrauhaus at Platzl 9: This is a massive complex of rooms and experiences. We opted not to join the crowd heading for the buffet and "Bavarian experience" show and we did not go to the beer hall you usually see on travel shows where the band urges you at regular intervals to lift your glass for a drink. Instead, we headed for a second story restaurant. After first being told they were completely full -- even though a third or more of the tables were empty and stayed that way during our dinner -- we were seated near groups of Germans that were out for a night on the town or who had earlier attended the Bayern Munich 3-1 win over Arminia Bielefeld.

The experience at Hofbrauhaus was amazingly bad except for the fact that my wife and I had the chance to have dinner with our daughter for the first time in a couple of months. I'm fairly sure the waiter got our beer order wrong. We asked for the Oktoberfest, but the beer we were served tasted kind of light to me for a festival brew. Our bill said we were charged 13.80 Euro for two mass (liter mugs) of "Hell."

The food was a disappointment. Food arrived in a random fashion, a dish here, a plate there. Some people had food, others did not. Some food never showed. Most of the food was not very hot. The creamed mushrooms over dumplings were industrial foodservice at best. The spatzle with cheese was so so. My wurstlteller plate of sausages, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut made me feel about as far away from the heart of Munich as possible. It was the weakest meal I had during my time in Germany. Better yet was the fact that my wife's order of a pork knuckle never arrived. We watched plate after plate fly by with dozens of good looking pieces of pork, but our waiter apparently could never snag one from the kitchen. After more than an hour we waved him off and asked for the check. The waiter blamed the chef, but since his tip was automatically built into the bill he did not have to worry. He brought out the check and, as I was about to pay he said, "Sorry, I made error." He returned with an updated check that had 1.20 Euro added on for two glasses of tap water we asked for while cooling our heels waiting for the food. That was a nice touch.

Augustiner-Bräustuben at Orlandostrasse 5: This place shares a corner with the Hofbrauhaus, but is miles away in beer, food and service quality. Brhea and I went to this place for a father-daughter lunch and each ordered the haxenteller, which is two types of pork knuckle. This time the pork arrived and it was great, particularly the roasted version. The service was friendly and efficient.

I sampled three beers while at Augustiner. The Augustiner Brau Dunkel is a mahogany brown with a nice malty nose. The flavor was nicely balanced, with more than a hint of roasted malt. The Weissbier was a big hit. Cloudy, amber gold color with the aroma of banana and a classic wheat beer flavor. The Oktoberfest is golden yellow brew with a proud light bodied head. This brew had the great malty character that I'd expect from a Munich Oktoberfest.

Fortified from a great meal we went out to the square and took photographs before meeting up with Sandy.

Spatenhaus an der Oper at Residenzstrasse 12 across from the Bavarian Opera House: We found our way to Spatenhaus after jumping off the "hop on, hop off" Gray Line tour of Munich. It turned out to be a good find and our best meal in Munich.

The food was fantastic. We all ended up ordering the same dishes, which is something we usually don't do. We shared a rocket salad (mixed greens) and then had pumpkin soup that was some of the best I recall ever having. Rich flavor, garnished with sour cream and roasted pumpkin seeds. We enjoyed the wiener schnitzel, which was served in very ample portions.

The beer was as good as the food, maybe better. The Franziskaner Weissbier had an interesting, almost bubble gum nose. The cloudy orange gold color was beautiful and the flavor had good notes of banana, clove and other spices. My favorite beer was the rich and malty Lowenbrau Triumphator Dopplebock. This is a dark and thick brew. It was loaded with plenty of dark beer character and obviously packed a punch. Perfect for a cool, misty Bavarian evening.

The next time in Munich I would certainly visit Spatenhaus and Augustiner. I'd avoid Hofbrauhaus and instead try one of the many other beer hall options.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps I can explain the empty tables at Hofbrauhaus. They highly prize their regulars. Some people have been going there every day for decades. Regulars get assigned tables and a locker to store their stein. They will keep restaurant tables open so regulars can sit as soon as they arrive.

You really missed out not going to the Schneider beerhall. It's an unassuming building right off Marienplatz so it's easy to miss as you walk by going to Hofbrauhaus. In my opinion they serve the best beer in Munich.

Rick Lyke said...


Thanks for the comments. I did see Schneider and really wanted to give it a try, but we were pressed for time and all of the tables were full when I walked through the door.

I understand the German tradition of the "Stammtisch" (regular's table) and think it is great. I really don't think that is what was happening a Hofbrauhaus. It was more like a good old case of bad service. Or, perhaps they were just saving my wife's scheinshaxe for one of the regulars, too.

Good Burp said...

I loved Munich. So much that I would love to live there. I had the same luck at the Hofbrau Haus. All 3 times, I was charged for an extra Mas. In addition, we were charged for extra pretzels.
Schneider was great. Once the waitress realized I had a "Good German Name", we were treated like family. She even gave us free shots of Schnapps.

charlie said...

Fond memories in your pix. My experiences at the Hofbrauhaus seemed better, although my friend and I kept to the beer hall. Yes, the Germans CAN be as provincial as Americans and as "Good Burp" noted...when our waiter found out our names were Snyder (Anglicized from Schneider) and Funk, his demeanor went from dour to almost perky! Augustiner Brau-Stube was a treat. Will return to Munich, ASAP! The villages are great places to find yourself invited to the local Stammtische...the folks there are not as pressured by the "touristy" crowd as, say, the Hofbrauhaus. Several times I found myself invited to the regular's table once a bit of small talk established I wasn't there to reconquer Germany like a Russian army!! Again, thanx for the pix.....CS