Taste: Reviews: Beer, Brats and Barmaids

Brauhaus Schmitz brings Bavaria back to town

Order a pint at one of Philly’s gastropubs, and you’re likely to experience a blast of flavors, including spices, fruits, even coffee. It’s a far cry from Germany’s Reinheitsgebot, the beer purity law drafted in 1516 stipulating that beer could contain only water, barley and hops. The long-repealed law is posted prominently near the bar at Brauhaus Schmitz, the new beer hall on South Street. Co-owner Doug Hager is trying to keep the tradition of simplicity alive.

[sidebar]Hager, born in Germany, tapped into his passion for the beers of his home country working at Ludwig’s Garten. After Ludwig’s closed, he immediately saw opportunity in the void. “I had to scour the city to find a place with more than two German drafts,” says Hager. The long, high-ceilinged, oak-clad room (complete with buxom, dirndl-wearing barmaids) looks like something out of the Munich tourism catalog. With a 20-item draft beer list that changes constantly, Brauhaus Schmitz is a classroom for aficionados.

You might expect the food to be an afterthought at such a beer-centric joint, but thanks to chef Jeremy Nolen, who has worked in Central Pennsylvania’s authentic German clubs, it holds up to the drink. The cuisine is stick-to-your ribs, homey and rustic, but immensely satisfying, in spite of the sometimes-dry schnitzel and the pasty potato dumplings. Start with the airy house-baked pretzel, or a plate of roll mops — tart pickled herring served with onion, sour cream and rye bread. Most of the wursts are from German butcher Reikers, and they’re all good, but the house-made bratwurst, a mouth-watering mix of pork shoulder and spices, rises above the rest. The Schweinshaxe, a rotisserie-cooked pork shank speckled with pieces of crackling, and the surprisingly light spaetzle are just two of the highlights on the still-growing menu of classics.  

The food and beer here are as good as at any gastropub, but the taste of German culture puts Brauhaus Schmitz in its own category of bar. The South Street location repels hipsters while drawing in tourists and the beer-clueless, which leads to a convivial, democratic vibe. Though service can be painfully slow, the informed staffers can easily match a big-brand beer drinker with the right German style of brew, many still made from only water, barley and hops.  

  • Herman

    I had heard this place hyped by some of my friends who’d been there. I lived in Germany for years. This place is better than what I remembered in Germany, but of course South St. Philly is not the same as Munich when you walk outside. Hope they keep it up.

  • Jim

    We enjoyed our dinner there. Both the beer and service were great

  • John

    I’m not sure “somtimes-dry schnitzel” is so easily excusable at a German restaurant. Really. In my experience, theirs is the worst schnitzel I’ve ever eaten. Such an easy thing to make well should be top-notch at this place because it’s pretty clear the owners want it to be a good place in every way. Don’t order schnitzel at this place, have sausage instead. Rieker’s (yeah, you misspelled it) won’t do you wrong.

  • lkdfjeoi

    Actually it’s incredibly easy to overcook a piece of meat that’s pounded 1/4″ thick. Bring yourself back to reality…

  • John

    It’s not at all easy to overcook something that only takes a couple of minutes per site at most. Lots of other restaurants do it, why can’t they? Plenty of Italian delis make juicy chicken breast cutlets pounded just as thin. There’s a biscuit shack in NC that serves pork cutlets just as thing and they are always juicy – and it’s a shack. (http://media.photobucket.com/image/sunrise%20biscuit%20kitchen/thomaspavlich/sunrise1.jpg )It’s not rocket science. My mom taught me to do it when I was 12 – because it is an incredibly easy thing to cook well.

  • heoirhef

    I’m just saying, the people that are cooking it probably aren’t hunched over the fryer the whole time waiting the two minutes it takes to cook it. I don’t know, I would think yes it IS an easy thing to execute, WHEN it’s the only thing you’re really focusing on. I’ll check out that shack though, any place that serves delicious biscuits are a must try. No disrespect, I just think there should be more thought put into a review before you just start bashing it left and right…

  • Sam

    Went last Saturday night with 2 other couples. Had reservations and was seated within ten minutes. Place was packed and very loud as expected. The beers are awesome. The service was excellent with the server, Jessica, being very informative and fast with the beers. Food was good to very good. Only problem we experienced was that four of us ordered the Wienerschnitzel and at 8 o’clock on a Saturday, they were out of it. Are you kidding? Other than that, a good time and we’ll be back.