The problem with Christmas, it has always seemed to me, is that once it's over people seem compelled to take down the decorations. Is it some leftover Puritan influence or what? Here we have all these festive, twinkling, low-wattage lights that make our abodes feel like there's a party going on 24/7, and some horrid Grown-Up Gene makes us feel like it's appropriate to destroy fairyland somewhere around New Year's Day. Admittedly in New Jersey, where I grew up, citizens customarily resisted the grim return to reality a bit longer, till Easter or so. One year my family kept the outside tree decorated till the Fourth of July. It wasn't long enough, as far as I was concerned.
At the Royal Bavarian Schnitzel Haus, the illuminated silver tinsel garlands were still sparkling in mid-February and, our server said, there were no plans to remove them. Since the Schnitzel Haus is located on a rather uninviting stretch of 79th Street east of Biscayne Boulevard, perpetually merry décor is an especially good idea, though not even jovial mini lights were enough to make dining at the few outdoor tables -- hard against the crowded, high-speed thoroughfare -- seem appealing. Inside, however, the two small rooms were the epitome of gemütlich, the unique German word conveying a warm, cozy, convivial state of well-being.
The food is a mix of the traditional standards one would encounter in Bavaria -- schnitzels, sausages, strudels -- and the New/Old World fusion fare to which Miamians have become accustomed in favorite German spots like the now defunct Edelweiss. In fact the Schnitzel Haus's chef/owner Alex Richter was a co-owner of Edelweiss (before splitting with partner Ludwig Gabriel Erhard last year), so it's no surprise to find signature specials from that restaurant, such as garlic shrimp, on the Haus's menu.
The shrimp are available as an appetizer or for $12.50 you can have them atop an otherwise classically German platter of mixed salads. They were genuinely jumbo, and their sauce, though thin, was flavorful from ample fresh (not jarred) garlic. The salads, though, were unspectacular: mouth-puckeringly marinated asparagus, green beans cooked too long to have crunch, undressed lettuce, bland beets. And the combination of salads and shrimp, with the garlic sauce soaking the vinegary vegetables, was an almost inconceivable mismatch.
Far better was a platter of fat hausmade sausages -- mild veal bratwurst, hearty beef and pork bauernwurst (farmer's sausage), and spicy garlicwurst -- served with assertive mustard and tangy sweet catsup, both also homemade. Even better were the restaurant's schnitzels, more than a half-dozen varieties available in diners' choice of pork or chicken for $12.95, or veal for two dollars more. The common perception that German food is too heavy for the subtropics was disproven by an unbreaded pork schnitzel "Munich," sauced with a caraway-beer gravy that was bold, not overwhelming. Even cream-sauced veal rahmschnitzel, pounded thin, was tender, almost delicate. All entrées came with red cabbage and excellent mashed potatoes, making them a full meal without starters or sides.
But do try to force down an order of potato pancakes ($8.50), two mammoth though superthin disks of greaselessly crisp-fried shredded potato. These were the best I've had, even better than those at the Rascal House.
If there's room for dessert, the homemade apple fritters were good, but my favorite was the malty black beer, one of ten imports served. Four of these brews are available on tap. The Schnitzel Haus is a serious pils bar as well as a restaurant; our server informed us of plans to add a big Bavarian biergarten out back, away from street traffic. Let's hope the décor will be as over the top outside as inside, all year round. In today's troubled world, when good cheer is handed to you on a platter (or in a stein), why not hang on to it?
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