Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh – Even more German than they planned.
Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh tries to recreate the feel of the original beer halls in Germany. Do they make it? Well, sort of. The food is hit or miss, the beer is pretty close and the atmosphere depends on when you’re there. We were there for a slow Thursday that turned into a raucous very authentic fest tent atmosphere on college night.
The best news was that the beer price was about five and a half bucks for a liter of the Hofbrauhaus beer– significantly less expensive than it would have been in Munich. We would put up with a pretty iffy venue for good beer that cheap, but as it turned out, we felt we had been transported to an actual Bavarian Fest.
We took two trips to the Dauchauer Volksfest twice summer. The first time was an experience we had had dozens of times before—crowded, but it took us only minutes for a full table to squeeze together to make room for two more. The second time was the last day of the fest and it was a madhouse. Almost no one under 30 was in the huge tent and all of them were standing on tables singing along at the top of their lungs. We beat a retreat back to Munich and had a fine last German meal at our favorite restaurant, Der Pschorr.
We spent this fall being a bit sorry we hadn’t stuck it out in Dachau. The music was great and with effort we might have found sitting room somewhere. Maybe. In January of 2017 we trekked to the Hofbrauhaus in Pittsburgh thinking we’d do our usual tasting ritual of the five house-brewed beers and then have a couple of quiet liters and head back to the hotel.
College night brought stunningly low beer prices and pretty close to a thousand college students to slurp plastic liter steins of the very good beer. The scene was startling close to the Dachauer festival we had bailed on. We stayed put this time. Warned by the manager that the empty hall would be filled in minutes after 9PM, we found shelter in a booth on the side of the hall. From there we could appreciate the teeming hoards standing and dancing on the table benches without actually being trampled.
The band was stunningly authentic –- almost everything they played, other than the required Ein Prosit, was in English and recognizable to our 60+ years old musical memory. They may or may not have known it, but the repertoire was amazingly close to the English language pop rock music almost every German band plays after 9PM in the big fest tents. The kids all spoke English and felt the effects of a liter of beer quicker than their German counterparts, but otherwise, we could have been in Bavaria.
On a return visit it was still echt (authentic) with a slightly older crowd still mostly standing on the benches. The food varied. If the schnitzel wasn’t frozen, the person who stuck it together should be sent to work in a fast food restaurant. It paled in comparison to the massive paper thin pounded-to-oblivion schnitzels of even average Munich restaurants. Minor points of difference included an oniony coleslaw whose onions would have been sweeter on the other side of the Atlantic and a Goulash soup that tasted as if they had added some of the spicy sauerbraten as well as the usual leftover roast meats. Both were fine, but a step short of echt. On the other hand, a roast chicken, though lacking the parsley that most spit roasted German chickens feature to moisten the white meat, was tender and delicious. The bird was ironically very authentic – for the 1970s, but tiny by today’s standards in the US or even in the German gardens. Imported sauerkraut was delicious and the wursts were excellent. Roast pork was at least as good here as in Munich.
Beer was pricier on our second visit, but still, at less than ten bucks a liter, a bargain, and not far off from what you’d pay there. One huge difference: in Germany a liter mass is never ever filled to the liter mark. It’s filled from bottom to top with foam and you’re lucky if it settles into more than two-thirds of a glass. Here, they fill right to the line. The whining of Americans complaining of being shortchanged can sometimes seem as loud as the oompah band in a German beer hall, so we assumed they made a less contentious route rather than more authentic choice.
The brewery features a huge riverside patio that would sport a better view than any Hofbrauhaus we’ve ever seen. It reminds us of the much smaller Bärenwirtin in Salzburg that overlooks the Salzach River from a perch near Europe’s best beer garden.
Brewery beers ranged from quite good to exceptional. The expertise of the home brewery is on display despite, and perhaps because, the brewery is so much smaller here. We start our beer of the day sequence with the weakest link, which is actually not bad, and we ratchet up to excellence over the next four days.
We were in Pennsylvania for the Inauguration, which seemed somehow poignantly appropriate. This night, however, we were able to return to Germany. Prost, Pittsburgh!!
(Post 0025) Next week: a liquid walk through history with an assortment of Guinness Stouts and Porters.