3rd and Saratoga St.
Although we live within staggering distance of Hofbrauhaus, we don’t visit as often as we could because there isn’t much for the vegetarian diner. Traditional German cuisine is based primarily on pork dishes, and to expect their food to be anything more than that served in a traditional German restaurant is unrealistic.
The primary draw for Hofbrauhaus is their beer, which is brewed on site using only hops, barley-malt and water. It is very, very good. So good, in fact, that it is nearly impossible on the weekends to get into the fantastic biergarten. We passed by the restaurant one Saturday evening after a Reds game and the queue to get in was at least 100 people deep, and as the restaurant and biergarten were at capacity, no one was getting in until someone else left. And no one was leaving; once you are there, the festive atmosphere keeps you firmly planted. To say that the place is jumping on the weekends is a vast understatement. It's no wonder merrymakers dance on the tables - there's no room elsewhere.
There are no prices on the beer menu, but a half-litre clocks in at $4.50 and a litre around $8. Can’t live without the giant mug? Opt to keep yours for an additional fee. The restaurant has a ceremonial keg tapping at 7 p.m. on the last Wednesday of each month to celebrate the next month's specialty and, since the limited editions tend to run out prior to month's end, attending a keg tapping will guarantee a sample.
Hofbrauhaus offers a Gardenburger entrée for vegetarians, so kudos for that, even though there is nothing noteworthy about it. Non-vegetarian food at Hofbrauhaus can be hit or miss. On a recent visit Steve opted for the schnitzel cordon bleu, which was supposed to be a fried pork cutlet stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese. Instead, the schnitzel came topped with sliced ham and bier cheese sauce. When we mentioned this to our server she said that the restaurant no longer stuffs the schnitzel, which is unfortunate, because the meat was tough and dry, and no amount of cheese was going to cover that up.
Not in the mood for a veggie burger, I ordered the pretzels w/ bier cheese appetizer as my main dish because I knew from previous experience that it’s usually a good bet, but on this occasion the dough hadn’t been heated through so the pretzels were still cold in the middle, plus the bier cheese was lukewarm and coagulated, with a skin on top that suggested it had been sitting around awhile. Perhaps it is simply the luck of the draw though, because a week later we hung out in the beer garden with friends and the pretzel/bier cheese appetizer was amazing; piping hot, soft pretzels and equally hot, gooey cheese perfect for dipping. When they get it right, Hofbrauhaus has the best soft pretzels around.
There are plenty of vegetarian-friendly appetizers on the menu, ranging in price from $7.50-$9, or opt for the $12.99 Newport Combo Sampler for variety. Choices include Knusprige Zucchini (fried zucchini), Kartoffelpfannkuchen (potato pancakes), onion rings, fried pickles, sauerkraut balls and the aforementioned pretzels with bier cheese. Don’t bother with the soups; none are vegetarian. Likewise avoid the specialty salads, although they do offer a lone meat-free salad on the assortment of side dishes.
The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area has a very rich and storied brewing history, due in no small part to the German immigrants who settled here over 100 years ago. The brewery names alone are a perfect indicator of this strong German heritage: Weidemann, Hudepohl, Burger, Bavarian Brewing Company, Christian Moerlein. In fact by the 1900 census the German population in Cincinnati burgeoned to over 60%, before anti-German hysteria took hold during World War I and streets, place names and even surnames were changed to sound more American.
Although a lot of the regional culture was suppressed during the first half of the last century, the hard-working populace remained, as have their children and grandchildren. That Munich-based Hofbrauhaus would choose our area as their first American brewery and restaurant is a no-brainer, and it has certainly helped bring German culture back into the mainstream. Just check out the biergarten on a Saturday night.