Schnitzel Haus on NE 79th Street, just east of Biscayne Boulevard, is far from the streets of Munich. If you listen carefully, you'll hear the sounds of brass bands playing, beer being poured, and the laughter of merry souls.
Schnitzel Haus is owner Alex Richter's third Miami restaurant, and it's been open for 11 years. The space is quaint, almost homey — decorated in everything German, from photos to steins, and featuring a ceiling painted sky blue with wisps of white clouds. It represents the Bavarian skyline and serves as a symbol of the area's traditional colors of blue and white.
Tradition runs deep in Germany, especially Bavaria, the southern federal state of Deutschland. Munich is the capital, and Oktoberfest is held there each year. Nowadays, the autumn festival runs just two weeks of the year — the last week of September through the first week of October. It was not always so early and not always a beer festival. Oktoberfest began October 12, 1810, when the Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. What was once a wedding reception with no more than a few beer stands and some horse racing grew to include an agricultural show, carnival rides, and beer tents and halls. Today, Oktoberfest is celebrated by more than 6.5 million people over the course of two weeks.
Oktoberfest is on the minds of the citizens of Munich for most of the year. "They start setting up in July," Richter says. His place serves Marzen, or "March" beer, which is strong, hoppy, and high in alcohol. "It's a younger beer — lighter, pale gold, honey color," he explains. By October, it has aged to a medium-bodied dark-amber beer. This is the Oktoberfest beer, or Marzen-Oktoberfestbier. "We only serve German beer," Richter says. Schnitzel Haus serves them all, from Augustiner Festzelt to Hofbrauhaus to Ochsenbraterei.
"The Original" Oktoberfest special
Photo by John Dangaran
Regarding food, a must-try dish is "The Original" Oktoberfest special, featuring an assortment of traditional German fare: Oktoberfest bratwurst, a beef slider (hamburger), a pork chop, sauerkraut, red cabbage, and potatoes. The Original is a generous helping that's always served in a cast-iron pan. "It's all about sharing," Richter explains. "Everyone takes something out."
The bun-less burger is the stand-out item. "The beef slider is my mother's recipe," Richter says, his face getting serious, "very traditional." They're made how most of us make burgers at home — with ground beef, onion, garlic, rosemary, paprika, and bread crumbs — but there's still something he's not revealing, because the seasonings are so outstanding they're able to make a loud bar grow silent. The sliders will be the main reason customers return — well, the sliders and the beer, of course, and maybe even the warm apple fritter dipped in cinnamon and sugar and served with vanilla ice cream.
Photo by John Dangaran
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Running back and forth behind the bar, Richter smiles as he pours one-liter beers, sets up plates and silverware, and points out scenes of past recordings of the festivities on the TV set. He's a Munich native and still gets excited about Oktoberfest. He also appears to be thrilled about owning a restaurant after all these years. It's evident he's put a lot of love into the place; the care he takes comes out through the food, drinks, and overall atmosphere.
Schnitzel Haus is celebrating Oktoberfest throughout October with festivities each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening. Richter promises a free eight-ounce beer or glass of German wine to anyone brave enough to sport a dirndl or lederhosen. Also, take advantage of the free parking in the lot behind the beer garden.