Invasion of the brats
Sacramento, CA 95817
Restaurants are often seen as harbingers of gentrification. Whether at the unfortunately named Local’s Corner in San Francisco or Summerhill in Brooklyn, the telltale marker is slick graphic design at odds with the neighborhood.
Similarly, Sacramento native Tom Schnetz has created trendy design stories for his two Oak Park restaurants, the Mexican La Venadita and German Oakhaus.
The hofbrau opened in June looking like Germany viewed through an Instagram filter: spearmint walls and forested cuckoo clocks, a slab bar and wooden shelves full of bric-a-brac. Director Wes Anderson would approve. In fact, there’s a Mendl’s pastry box from the fictional bakery in Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Likewise, the food is one-third Germanic and two-thirds Americana hipster. It has the spirit of LowBrau, but the a la carte style of Sam’s Hof Brau. Yes, there are brats and schnitzel and a boiled-and-baked pretzel and stone-ground mustard. Several beers from Germany are on draft. Dishes that were once seen as dowdy and Midwestern—meatloaf, potato salad—regain their it-factor in the context of their German origins.
Too bad the food tastes like it’s checking off boxes: flavor-mashing aioli (lemon sage), check; thick clusters of sea salt, check. Schentz owns a few Mexican restaurants in the Bay Area, so he’s familiar with current tropes. He brings those cliches to Oakhaus’ menu with sandwiches, snacks and entrees that are often delicious, but occasionally feel halfhearted.
The successes are worth a visit on their own: Brussel sprouts ($4.25) with perfectly charred frills that lock in the oil and pancetta. Bratwurst on a roll ($9.50 with potato salad) that’s juicy, porky and perky as you bite into it, as if it has nothing to hide—you might even want to see how the sausage is made. German chocolate cupcake ($3.95) with surprisingly moist cake, subtle coconut and icing as darkly lush as the Black Forest.
A clever item on the menu mixes a Southern staple (hush puppies) with Germanic ingredients: kraut balls ($3.75). And boy, are they good. An interior of fermented onions warmly oozes from a playful exterior of crushed pretzels. The lightly sour and soft sauerkraut harmonizes with the savory crunch on the outside.
But the missteps are head-scratchers. The deviled eggs taste too pungently of mustard. Likewise, the pickles are funk-forward. The pastrami sandwich offers a mouthful of housemade rye—aromatically seeded and sweet like maple—with a serving of meat fit for a baguette, which is to say, not much.
We get it, the bread is delicious, but please don’t take away our meat because of it.
The neighborhood seems wary of the restaurant; each time I went, it was nearly empty. Yelp user Fatima C. wrote, “Considering the gentrification rate in Oak Park, I’m curious to know what efforts this business is making to hire original Oak Park residents?”
Oakhaus has merged German and American fare with mixed results. It remains to be seen how it’ll mingle with the community.