By David Minsky
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By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
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The beverages are totally different: At Hofbräu Beerhall, nearly every table is topped with glasses or mugs filled with golden or amber-hued fluid. At Cafe Maurice, only slightly more delicate stemware is swirled with liquids tinted straw or dark maroon. There are plenty of other dissimilarities as well, so many that it's not hard to see why the French and Germans don't really like each other much. I mean, how many world wars will we need to figure that one out? Too bad. To paraphrase Rodney King: Why can't we just have a schnitzel and quiche and get along?
Now, on South Beach, we can. Not in the same sitting, mind you, but these two newcomers a bistro and a beer hall have set up shop within a few miles of one another. Each inherits a space held by popular, longtime, recently deceased SoBe eateries (Cafe Maurice takes over the similarly themed L'Entrecote de Paris, on Washington Avenue just south of Fifth Street, while Hofbräu Beerhall is located where Lincoln Road Cafe used to be). The bistro and beer hall are both fairly inexpensive joints, too, with no entrees costing over twenty bucks. And the two are already overflowing with good cheer, good drinks, and ... food.
Hofbräu had the more difficult remodeling task, transforming a former Cuban eatery into a German one. This was accomplished mostly via blue-and-white checkered Hofbräu München flags draped from the rafters, and colorful framed posters from a decade's worth of Oktoberfests brightening white stucco walls. The place looks cleaner and sleeker than before, but nothing like a beer hall. This is probably a good thing we don't want to re-create the atmosphere of old-time Germany tooclosely now, do we?
419 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Region: South Beach
Cafe Maurice, 419 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-674-1277. Open for dinner daily 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
Most people sit at the outdoor tables, anyway. Under blue umbrellas. Surrounded by green foliage. Lulled into a pleasant complacency by wursts, beer, and music oom-pah-pahing over the speakers. Even so, this feels even less like a biergarten than the indoors conjures a beer hall. In fact, it seems an awful lot like hanging on Lincoln Road.
The original brewery of this name was founded in 1589 by William V, Duke of Bavaria, but the folks running this operation are not your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's Germans. For one thing they are not exactly über-efficient. Anyone who labors under this ethnic stereotype will be thoroughly disabused of the notion while waiting for a menu. Or the check. Or anything, really. There was a stretch of close to five minutes when not a single restaurant worker neither host, manager, waiter, nor busperson was spotted in the "garden," although there were about 40 people seated out there.
Bavarian pretzels are known to Americans as "soft pretzels," the type sold at ball games, festivals, circuses, and zoos. Here they are dubbed "freshly baked pretzels imported from Munich" meaning brought in frozen and heated in an oven. The regular size is listed as $2.95; the "giant original Oktoberfest pretzel" is $6.50. Actual prices, however, are $12.75 and $18.30 respectively, as the salt on either will create a thirst that a minimum of two ten-ounce beers ($4.95 each) will be required to quench.
I'm not kidding.
The dark brown "dark beer sauce" pooled around an order of schweinebraten (roasted pork shoulder) was likewise overly salinated, enough to necessitate at least a seventeen-ounce (half-liter) beer or lager so add $6.95 to the $16.50 price for this one. Two light but slightly spongy potato dumplings bobbed in the gravy, and on the side was a generous bowl of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots soaked in butter, black pepper, and "another beer, please!" too much salt. I have no proof that an insidious business plan is at work here, but during numerous visits we were never offered water.
Nor were we offered bread, although two types of rye are listed a la carte on the menu German-style and American. They were out of both by 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening. On a Friday visit German rye was available thin, yeasty, pale brown, and not especially fresh ($1.50). Nothing wrong with those Hofbräu München draft specialties, though original gold lager, a dark dunkel, and hefe weizen, a cloudy wheat beer. The grand size, a comically tall 34-ounce (one liter) mug, seemingly became heavier to lift as I emptied it.
Wursts are the best things here. "Grilled leberkäse," a sausage loaf composed of finely ground and pressed corned beef, bacon, and onions, isn't grilled but browned in a pan (a common biergarten dish actually called strammer max), accompanied, as is tradition, by a scoop of fresh, warm, parsley-and-vinegared potato salad. If you've ever had a fried bologna sandwich what's that? Oh, you're not from Brooklyn? Well, it's like you can imagine fried bologna would be, only the loaf-shaped slices are thicker. The 100-percent-veal bratwurst is probably a safer bet for most folks, grilled and served with red cabbage and mashed potatoes. White sausages made from veal and pork, Münchner weisswurste, brought two plump poached dogs huddled around a black plastic cup of sweet Munich mustard, with a Bavarian pretzel on top.
Cafe Maurice hasn't been around since the 1500s, but it did enjoy a successful eleven-year run in Los Angeles before relocating to South Beach. Owners David Meunier, Jean Michel Collet, and executive chef Maurice Azoulay have left L'Entrecote's laminated bar, back room mural, and mirrors intact. The rest of the walls are lipstick red and covered in variously sized, black-framed photos, paintings, and prints. French tunes mingle in the air along with the soft, graceful accents of the overwhelmingly Gallic clientele. This place feels just like a real Parisian bistro, right down to the laissez-faire attitude of an inattentive wait staff.