Von Bismarck—the newly opened biergarten on Wells Avenue—seems about as likely as a former transmission shop being reborn as an upscale eatery. Which is exactly what it is, and it’s beautiful. Walking from my parking spot past older, earthier businesses into this meld of modern design and old world charm was a bit surreal but plenty appealing.
My group of four started with a round of imported wines and draft beers. My Weltenburger Kloster Hefe-Weisbier Hell ($9, 20 ounces) was just the thing for a pleasant summer evening on the patio. If you’re really thirsty, a full liter stein of the brew is available for $12. Other adult beverages include barrel-aged schnapps, not to be confused with the cheap, syrupy stuff found in American frat houses and ski lodges.
Next was a handful of shared small plates—starting with a warm, crusty soft pretzel ($9) reminiscent of a twisted doughnut, though smaller than I’d expected. Served with a very good housemade mustard and fresh quark (a soft cheese made from soured milk), we each got a bite and wished for more. A small cast-iron crock of kasespatzle followed ($8). The “little sparrow” fresh pasta was combined with melted cheese and a sprinkling of herbs. The cheese sort of glued the whole thing together, but we managed to separate individual bites and enjoy it.
Orders of sauerkraut ($4) and plastered potatoes ($8) followed. The roughly chopped, house-fermented cabbage wasn’t as sour as store-bought brands lead you to expect, with a mellow sharpness and pleasing hint of juniper. Crusty fingerling tubers doused in spicy garlic oil and herbs were anything but mellow, though I enjoyed their pillowy texture and vampire-warding fire.
A big bowl of mussels with bits of bratwurst ($22) was swimming in a mix of wine, garlic oil and fronds of fresh fennel. Here the heat was absent, the flavors balanced, the shellfish perfect. Just as good was a whole, boned and grilled, head-on trout ($22) served with rosti and a schmear of quark. The “potato pancakes” were actually haystacks of crispy shredded potato, topped with julienned sour apple—essentially a hash brown on steroids. The fish looked like it was wearing a fur coat of fennel, and I removed the head so it wasn’t “staring” at one of the ladies. I recommend including the seasoned skin with each bite.
A huge coil of grilled bratwurst ($20) was set atop a bed of rotkohl (a traditional sweet and sour dish of onion and red cabbage), finished with sour apple and chives. The skin was snappy, the flavor rustic, and the cabbage just as good as the kraut. But most impressive was a platter of bone-in, wild boar schnitzel ($32) served with mushroom and caramelized fennel gravy, grated hard cheese and lemon wedges. Proof of the meat’s origin: a bullet fragment discovered by my friend, which I assured meant he got the “lucky” schnitzel. Paired with a side, just one of those big, delicious chops would have satisfied me. Turns out the spendiest item on the menu is also the best deal, perfect for sharing.
Macerated berries with fennel ash dusted cream ($7) and strudel with cream and cherry compote ($8) completed the experience, both adorned with edible blossoms. My German-fluent friend had low expectations but declared our meal comparable to the best stuff he’s eaten in Deutschland. Not being a traveler myself, I’ll take his word for it—but next time I’m getting my own pretzel.