Comfort Zone: The Bier Garden

Bier Garden

By George Culver

It's been more than 20 years since I was stationed in Germany. We didn't eat out as much back then as we do now, but we did enjoy food on the “economy.” That's what we called venturing out to the local towns and shops. Coming back to the states, we heard about The Bier Garden in Portsmouth and eventually made our way there for a couple of beers. This was about 2003. Seeing a decent list of authentic German beers at a restaurant wasn't commonplace, but Bier Garden had them. It was exciting to see familiar German breweries on bottle labels. We swore we would go back to try the food.

Ten years later, Shelby and I finally made it back. Portsmouth isn't far, but so many places to eat are along the way that we rarely make it over to visit. Walking up to the Bier Garden again after all this time brought on a little nostalgia. It wasn't realizing a decade had passed since we were there, it was more about Germany itself. It was great experience in my family's life. The Bavarian blue and white check flag welcomed us in.

We walked into the bar first to check out the huge beer menu. The 17-year-old restaurant serves more than 375 beers on draft and in bottles. Not limited to German beers, they have brews from around the world. We found our way to the dining area and the hostess showed us to a table. Since we decided to eat dinner here, all I could think about was Jagerschnitzel — tenderized pork loin, breaded and fried, smothered in mushroom gravy. I haven't had a good one since I left Germany, and I was hoping I'd be pleased with what Bier Garden had to offer. Shelby had been checking out the menu and had picked the Bratwurst.

We started with drinks. I ordered an Ayinger Bräu Weisse and Shelby tried a Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne. Both beers were on draft. I was familiar with the Ayinger Weisse I ordered and thought I'd go with something for atmosphere. It’s a solid Hefeweizen. The Belgian red ale, Duchesse de Bourgogne, was different but refreshing. Crisp, sour and fruity, it woke you up. We enjoyed our drinks with a brezen (pretzel) and spicy mustard. Shelby used to buy brezen for herself and the kids from the local bakery in our town, Hohenfels. These reminded us of those, and the mustard was excellent. It had a little bite and a great texture. We ordered our food while sipping our drinks and eating our huge pretzel.

Russell, general manager, came by to see how we were doing. We talked a little bit about the restaurant (he's been there 15 years), the beer selection and the food, of course. He told us that they have close to 400 beers available in the restaurant and pointed out a couple of items of interest on our food and beer menus. I went with the Schnitzel and opted to have mushroom gravy on it instead of the traditional lemon. The Jagerschnitzel is prepared traditionally at the Bier Garden, which means it's not breaded. Breaded schnitzel is Wienerschnitzel, which is what I've always been used to. Alles Gute! Shelby ordered the Bratwurst with sauerkraut and spätzle. The kraut and spätzle are made in-house daily for patrons.

I loved the Jagerschnitzel. The schnitzel was cooked perfectly — tender and juicy. The breading was crispy and thin. I was able to get extra mushroom gravy, which I needed because I was sopping up as much as I could get onto my schnitzel with each bite. I got two sides with my plate. The Semmel Knodeland Bratkartofflen was a heavy dumpling that reminded me of stuffing. Bratkartofflen is pan-fried potato and onion that was a great complement to my entree. Shelby gave me a bite of the delicious Bratwurst. It reminded me of the brats we would get from street vendors in Germany. They would serve them in brotchen (rolls) with spicy mustard. Our table had a container of mustard to dispense liberally on our meals. The sauerkraut and spätzle tasted fresh. You could tell this stuff wasn't sitting around in the fridge during the week. The portions are generous; we took home leftovers.

We had a chance to catch some other plates going out to diners. The Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich looked impressive, stacked and held together by a knife skewered vertically through the sandwich. A Reuben on a rye was plated nicely. I made a mental note to return for lunch sometime soon. We put away what we could of our dinners and decided that it would be a good idea to order dessert. I don't know why, because we didn't have room. But Russell told us he made a fresh Apple strudel that was worth trying. Why not? Apple strudel, please.

The strudel was good -- a light pastry and slightly sour apples in a sweet sauce with a ton of cream on top. The plate had cinnamon sprinkled on it. We ate about half and couldn't eat anymore. We took care of the check and made our way out through the bar area again. I wanted to look at the decorations and beer cabinets. We left the bar through a small courtyard and headed to our car. We'll definitely be back soon. Ten years was way too long.