Hofbräuhaus St. Louis Review
As a German teacher who lives less than 30 minutes from the new Hofbräuhaus in Belleville, Illinois, which is confusingly referred to as the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis, I have been asked at least 50 times what I think of the new German restaurant. Until last week, I had to answer, “I have no idea. I haven’t been there, yet.” Last week my family and I fixed that problem. Now I want to officially share my thoughts on our experience, the atmosphere, the food and, of course, how it stands up in comparison to the original Hofbräuhaus in Munich.
In 2003 the first Hofbräuhaus was built in the United States. It was build in Newport, Kentucky. I assume they chose it due to the large number of German immigrants that settled there in the 1880-90s. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I don’t own the Hofbräuhaus, so I wasn’t consulted.
The next logical choice was Las Vegas. Since they already had the Eiffel Tower, the New York Skyline and the Sphinx recreated in all their splendor, it seemed only fitting that they recreate the brewery of the Bavarian state government. According to the Hofbräuhaus franchise website, the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas is a perfect recreation. I’ve never been, so I will just take them at their word.
Hofbräuhaus St. Louis Design
The Hofbräuhaus St. Louis is definitely not the most authentically recreated Hofbräuhaus, as the interior was created specifically for this location and is not based on the original in Munich. It is, however, the biggest Hofbräuhaus franchise in the United States to date. The Hofbräuhaus St. Louis can hold up to 1100 people at one time with its beer hall, private room and outdoor beer garden with a total space of 30,000 square feet. It is enormous and you can see that already from the highway as you drive past.
Delays, Delays, Delays
Although I am aware that big buildings take time to create, this Hofbräuhaus franchise took a bit longer than most buildings its size. Not because of the size, but because of a myriad of issues throughout the planning and construction processes. Construction began in 2015. It was originally supposed to open in June of 2016. By May of 2016 they were already pushing back their goal to November.
A few short months later they couldn’t even give an estimated opening date. On August 22, 2017 it was reported that the restaurant would open in “late fall”. On November 21, 2017 the Belleville News Democrat reported it would be delayed beyond the “late fall” goal and they were shooting for early the next year. According to an article from December 1, 2017, the construction was delayed again and expected to open in “late-January”. In January of 2018 they planned on opening on February 26, 2018.
I’m sure that I missed a delay in there somewhere. It started to seem like they just kept giving opening dates that they knew they couldn’t make so that there was another article in the paper about them. It was their way of getting free advertisement and making sure that people knew that they still existed and they were eventually, maybe going to open someday before the horsemen of the apocalypse arrive.
Hofbräuhaus St. Louis Finally Opens
In February the moved the goal to a soft opening in March and a grand opening on April 18th. That date finally stuck. On March 27, 2018 it finally had its soft opening with the grand opening on April 18th. I’ll give them more credit than they are probably due here and say that this accomplishment counts as meeting two deadlines. Unfortunately, their soft opening was pretty hard on customers. With three years of anticipation built up, there were a ton of people who wanted to finally get a taste of the Hofbräuhaus. When the first reviews started rolling in on Trip Advisor and Yelp, they were overwhelmingly bad. Almost every review I read in the first few days of the restaurant being open said that the food was great, but the service made it an unbearable experience.
All of that information made my family and I decide to wait a bit before trying the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis. We waited almost exactly a month after their grand opening to make sure that they figured out how to run a restaurant. From what I gathered from the first reviews, it sounds like they had a bit of trouble coming to grips with the fact that the restaurant was actually open and they had to, like, you know, serve customers and stuff. With cautious optimism we finally went on May 25th.
First Impressions of the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis
As you can see from the image at the top of this article, they stayed pretty faithful to the style of the original building in Munich, but the St. Louis version lacks a feeling that is present at the original. When you walk to the original Hofbräuhaus, you take a stroll down some classically beautiful Munich streets before you arrive. The Hofbräuhaus St. Louis is quite possibly the ugliest location for a restaurant of this caliber. The St. Louis franchise is completely isolated from the city of Belleville. It has open fields on all sides and a highway that runs along the front. The original plan was to build several other facilities around Hofbräuhaus including a few hotels and a sports complex. Maybe when those other projects are completed this will have a different feel, but for now the approach is depressing at best.
When you first walk into the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis, you are greeted by a hostess and the gift shop. This is the first unauthentic part of the restaurant, but I understand why it has to be done this way. In the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, you seat yourself (unless you have a reservation, which I recommend if you have a big group). If there is an open space at the end of a booth (or even in the middle of a longer one), sit down. It is customary to ask “Ist hier noch frei?” first to make sure that there isn’t a person coming back to that table, but the seating is very open in the German version.
In America, this would never fly. Here we have to have the hostess tell us where to sit and it will almost always be at a table without other people at it. I did, however, notice that as the restaurant started to fill up that the hostesses started seating people at benches where there were other families already. There were two people seated at the end of our bench towards the end of our meal. I smiled at the authenticity. I was starting to feel like I was in Germany.
The staff are incredibly helpful and friendly. The waitstaff, management and gift shop clerks are all dressed in Lederhosen or Dirndls. It wasn’t the cheap knockoff Lederhosen and Dirndls you can buy at Walmart during Halloween. They are the real deal from Germany and you can get almost the exact Lederhosen I own from the gift shop (but not the ones the staff are wearing for some reason). The other staff (kitchen staff, cleaning staff, etc.) are simply dressed in nice pants and a Hofbräuhaus t-shirt.
Our waiter, Mike, was very helpful and polite. He greeted us with a smile and even joked a bit with me about the complications of trying to be authentically German while still catering to an American clientele. Little things like “I’m glad I don’t have to explain to you how to pronounce the name of the food.” and “Our tipping system here isn’t like any other restaurant you have been to in the USA.” (Not direct quotes from Mike, but paraphrased versions of what he said.)
Atmosphere and Culture
From the moment you walk up to the doors of the Hofbräuhaus, you get the feeling you have been transported to the real Hofbräuhaus in Munich. Sounds of German music (including accordion) fill the air. Live musicians are on stage (occasionally mingling with the customers and even standing on tables as shown in the picture above). The entertainers regale their audience with traditional beer hall chants and songs. They even pulled out a huge Alpenhorn and played it along with the music at one point. The entertainers are flown in from Germany each month and are as authentic as you can get them. I included a few clips below
The most important question is, “Did they get the food right?” I have to emphatically answer “YES!” This is the best German food I have had in the United States and I eat at every German restaurant I see. I included images of the menu below, but my descriptions here will stick to the dishes we ordered.
We started off with the “Riesenbrezen Combo”, which is a pretzel the size of a large dinner plate served with two kinds of mustard (one sweet and one onion flavored) and a cheese (similar to a pimento cheese). The pretzel was amazing. It was soft, warm and prepared perfectly. If you were to get a pretzel at the Oktoberfest, this would be the exact same thing. Unfortunately, the pricing for this giant pretzel also matched the Oktoberfest. It was $14! I might have paid $7 for a pretzel like this, but asking $14 is way too much. I will never be ordering this again, despite how delicious it was.
I chose the “Bayerische Spezialitäten Platte”, which consisted of smoked pork loin, pork roast, and smoked sausage served on top of sauerkraut and mashed potatoes and topped with strips of fried onions and “dark beer sauce”, which was basically a barbecue sauce. The sausage had the “knack” I expect from a good German sausage and a great smoky flavor. It was a bit dry, but overall a great sausage.
The pork roast was tasty and moist. There were a few bites that were drier than others, but those were few and far between. My personal favorite meat on the plate was the pork loin. It is shown below with perfect grill marks and a small bone on the right side. It had a great smoky flavor (somehow a different smoky flavor than the other two meats) and was incredibly moist.
The mashed potatoes weren’t anything terribly special, but they had good flavor and they made a good mixing area to offset the meats. Under all of the other things in the picture below is a portion of the best sauerkraut I have had in the United States. I eat sauerkraut any time I see it on a menu, but this is the first time someone got it right. Having the pork loin lying on top of the sauerkraut allowed some of the sauerkraut flavor to leach into the loin and if you wanted a bit more sauerkraut in your bite of loin, you could simply scoop it on top. I loved everything about this dish and wouldn’t change a thing, except maybe the smoked sausage, which seemed out of place and didn’t really mix well with the other flavors on the plate.
My Wife’s Meal
My wife ordered the Jägerschnitzel, which comes topped with mushroom sauce, bacon, fried onions and Spätzle. Everything is better with bacon and this is no exception. The schnitzel is cooked to perfection and goes great with the mushroom sauce. The Spätzle is just like my host family used to make and mixes really well with the mushroom sauce. I neither understand nor appreciate the side of cranberry dipping sauce. It just seemed unnecessary. It tasted good, but I just don’t get how it went with the rest of the dish.
My 5-Year-Old’s Meal
Sophia is a pretty picky eater, but the Hofbräuhaus does offer some things that she might like. The kid’s menu includes: hotdog, cheeseburger, macaroni with butter or cheese sauce, chicken tenders with ranch for dipping and pretzel bites with cheese sauce. Several of the options are served with fries. We opted for the cheeseburger, as we thought that was the safest bet. I haven’t found a restaurant yet where she won’t eat the fries, so that was no problem. They were the ones that were wider than they are tall making them have a bit more potato per fry than I personally care for, but everyone has their own preference on fries.
The cheeseburger looked like a thick McDonald’s cheeseburger including the crappy smashed bun. She ate less than half of it. She kept complaining that it was “spicy”, but in her world that just means it has some kind of seasoning on it. My wife tried it and said it was “heavily seasoned”. I guess we’ll stick with the pretzel bites, chicken tenders or hotdog next time. Her favorite food is Mac n Cheese, but I’m pretty sure that based on their description of it, she wouldn’t like theirs. To me, none of this is a deal breaker. It is very difficult to have a kid’s menu at a fancy restaurant that is actually palatable to children and still justifies overcharging their parents for it. In this case, however, I don’t feel that the attempt justified the pricing.
This is a brewery. They brew their own beer in-house based on the recipe from the real Hofbräuhaus in Munich. They offer the “big three”, which include the original full-bodied lager, the Hefe Weizen, and the Dunkel (dark beer). My first time at the real Hofbräuhaus I opted for the lager, but on this trip to the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis, I didn’t try one.
When they were building the restaurant and brewery, Germans flew in to help with every stage of the construction and setup. Those Germans designed, setup, and tested the brewery. Without testing any of their beers, I can say with certainty that the flavors will be the exact same flavors you will find in Germany. They will be fresh-brewed and straight from the tap, just like they would be in Munich. They also offer seasonal beers, as you would also see in Munich.
I think the pricing is what I expected. The Hofbräuhaus in Munich is overpriced, so I expected this to be the same. I spent over $80 (including tip) for the three of us to eat and have a soda. This is about the same amount I spent the last time I went to Red Lobster. That being said, even here $14 for a giant pretzel is too much. The rest of the pricing was in line with what you would find at any other restaurant that provides the type of atmosphere and entertainment as this one does.
I thought the gift shop was fantastic. You can get legitimate Lederhosen and Dirndls, beer mugs, and other odds and ends. It is mostly stereotypical Bavarian things. You can even get Tyrolean hats (also known as Bavarian hats or Alpine hats) complete with feather. They also offer a few kitschy things like onesies for babies that have Lederhosen printed on them or random t-shirts. The pricing is again a bit high, but what I would expect to pay at a gift shop in a fancy restaurant.
One Final Quirk
When I got the check, our waiter went through some options for tipping. Obviously, you can leave a cash tip on the table as you would in any other restaurant, but if you are using a credit/debit card and you want to leave a tip on the card, you have to indicate the tip amount, before the waiter takes your card. Mike explained this to me as one of the quirks of having a German restaurant in the United States.
In Germany, it isn’t customary to add a large tip on to the amount paid for a meal. You might round up a bit and say “Stimmt so.” or something like that, but you rarely add an extra 15% to the total. You might see in some restaurants that the tip is built in as a service charge, but tipping on your own in Germany isn’t really as big of a thing as it is in the USA.
When the Americans had the Germans set up the credit/debit card system, they mentioned that they have to have “preauthorization”. This is our term for scanning the card and then adding the tip later. In Germany, this is not a thing. You simply approve the amount the first time around. This means that in Belleville at the Hofbräuhaus, you add your tip in before giving your waiter your credit/debit card. Weird to some Americans, but it is just another bit of authenticity to me.
If you are anywhere near St. Louis and you are looking for a good German meal with some German culture on the side, you should definitely check out the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis. The food is on point. The atmosphere is on point.
The only disappointment is the lack of staff that actually speak German. Our waiter spoke a little bit of German, as he took it in high school, but I’m guessing that was at least 5 years ago for him. The clerk at the counter in the gift shop was a high school student from Belleville who was currently enrolled in a German class, but I’m guessing his language skills were pretty rudimentary, as well. It would be nice to have the staff speak a bit more German to add to the atmosphere, but otherwise this restaurant gets high marks for most other categories.
To me, the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis has earned a 9/10 rating on the “Herr Antrim’s Totally Official Sounding Rating of Restaurants” scale. If you want more pictures of the Hofbräuhaus St. Louis, you can find them below.