For a few brief hours on a recent Sunday evening, I felt like I was 22 again.
I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Germany and, after spending the day at Neuschwanstein castle, toasted with beer, schnitzel and dancing at Munich's famed beer hall, Hofbrauhaus. It's the centuries-old place off the square with the arched entries, blue-and-white banners, wooden tables that look like they've been around since Medieval times and taps flowing with golden lager.
Hofbrauhaus5500 Park Place, Rosemont, (847) 671-2739, hofbrauhauschicago.com
Setting: Boisterous Bavarian beer hall
Entrees: $12.95 to $24.95
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
I haven't had the opportunity to get back to Munich to take in that Bavarian revelry, and now I don't have to.
Earlier this year Hofbrauhas opened an outpost in Rosemont, bringing a taste of German food, music and, of course, beer from Munich to the Midwest.
The first thing that strikes you as you enter Hofbrauhaus is its size. While the other restaurants in the entertainment district share space in a strip mall of sorts, Hofbrauhaus stands by itself and boasts about 550 seats in the main beer hall and when weather permits, the 400-seat beer garden will open. The restaurant has its own parking lot; overflow parking is available in the nearby garage, and the restaurant does validate tickets.
The building is not quite as large as its Munich parent, but this newest member of the Hofbrau family (other U.S. locations include Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Newport, Ky.) still houses a large open dining room, private banquet rooms and a brewery where the lager, dunkel, hefeweisen and light are brewed.
The place exudes Bavarian hospitality and ompah spirit. It's easy to get caught up in the band's enthusiasm (live music fills the halls seven nights a week and Saturday and Sunday afternoons). Soon enough you'll be singing "ein, zwie, drei, g'suffa" and clinking heavy steins of beer or soda with the folks at the next table.
Only Hofbrauhaus beers are served, so don't expect a Miller Light or a local craft brew. A liter stein will set you back nearly $13; smaller 10-ounce pours also are available for $4.95. You can also fill up a souvenir boot with your brew of choice and partake in an age-old German drinking game.
But let's not lose sight of the food.
The Hofbrauhaus menu is stuffed with German favorites, and we couldn't find a clunker in the bunch.
We started our meal with the Jumbo Complete, a giant pretzel served with the signature "obazda" cheese -- soft and mildly spiced with paprika and cumin -- and two mustards for smearing. It's big enough to share, but if there are more than four in your group, I suggest ordering two to avoid fighting over the last salty bits.
Pork is the main meat, and I'd be hard-pressed to say whether I enjoyed it more smoked in loin form with a dark beer sauce (as on the Hofbrauhaus platter), "hunter" style smothered with creamy mushroom sauce or as the classic breaded cutlet (schnitzel) pounded thin and cooked perfectly crisp and golden. The latter was even enjoyed by my picky son who subsists on not much more than chicken nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches.
When it came to sausages, forget what you think you know about German varieties. The Reisenbratwurst was a long skinny pork sausage hanging out both ends of the French bread bun. Kids might want to ask for the sauerkraut on the side as it comes smothered with the tangy cabbage.
By its menu description, a meal of three "Vienna style frankfurters" sounds like our familiar Chicago variety, but there's really no comparison between these smokey sausages and hot dogs as we know them. They arrive in a bowl of steamy water so the other two stay warm while you cut into one and drag it through the oniony mustard. The accompanying potato salad ain't bad either.
The potato salad, studded with bits of cucumber, comes with many of the entrees and -- if you're counting carbs -- no, you may not swap it for the soup, The restaurant has a no-substitutions policy so trade among yourselves or order extra side dishes. A pleasantly vinegared cucumber salad, tender, buttery spaetzle and red cabbage, mildly seasoned with allspice and cinnamon, are among the offerings.
All this and there were still desserts to try. The Black Forest cake frankly was a bit of a letdown; not cherry enough to match my memory of the cake I enjoyed in a small town in southern Germany. The vanilla ice cream with raspberries was the surprise hit; the warm raspberries provided a bright end to the meal.
Our service started a bit rocky -- our server seemed preoccupied when we first sat down -- but the lull gave us time to enjoy the band and page through the newspaper that explains the place and upcoming events. Had the paper contained lyrics to the drinking songs that were repeated three times during our visit, I would have found it more useful. Instead we just uttered what we thought were the words as I'm sure others were doing.
I doubt Hofbrauhaus will be my weekly Sunday dinner spot, but it sure will be a place I take friends and guests for great food, great beer and a great time.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.