“Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.” And surprise of surprises, those German Beerhall days live on in Asbury Park. Though the newly-opened Festhalle & Biergarten on Lake Avenue is not the place to go if you’re looking for quiet creature comforts, if you suspend any nit-picky food fetishes (as we did) if you roll back the years so you can rock out with the twenty-something crowd (as we did as well) and if you’re game for a loud, rollicking good time, you’ll partake of some of the best German comfort food this side of the Reichstag.
As is traditional in a German Biergarten, you’ll share long bare wooden communal tables with (hopefully) convivial neighbors. When you think German food, you’ll surely think beer. That said, as we ourselves are many miles from being beer mavens, we found each of our waitresses extremely knowledgeable and helpful. If you yourself are a beer aficionado, given the tsunami of selections, we don’t imagine you’ll be disappointed.
During our two visits, we sampled three of the six appetizers and think two are worth recommending. Though we were surprised to find a frisbee-sized, fresh baked hot salted pretzel as an appetizer, accompanied as it was by a zesty cheese dip and an even zestier mustard, it was indeed appetizing. The same holds true for the Blumenkohl, a wonderfully aromatic fried Cauliflower with an Aioli dip.
For our main courses, we sampled the Kasespatzle, the Sauerbraten, the Bratwurst and the Kielbassa. If you’ve never eaten Kasespatzle, it is a soul soothing Viennese version of macaroni and cheese on satisfying steroids. The present issue, generously laced with smoked Speck, cheese and herbs, will summon up the glutton in all but the anorexic. (Our table-neighbor quipped that if her right hand were made of this particular smoked speck she’d eat it!) The Sauerbraten, too, was a tangy, sweet and savory joy. Laced as the gravy was with Lingonberries to spare, and swimming in the apple cider vinegar based gravy, the beef shoulder was moist and effortlessly tender. The dumpling alongside pleased as well.
Both the home made Bratten and Kielbassa were quite as we like them, with an adequate char on the outside and just enough spice or garlic inside for contrast and kick. Our table mates seemed equally happy with the Chicken Paprikash and the Goulash.
Well . . . not bad really, but the Toastet appetizer — fresh bread with quark cheese, radish and herbs — was disappointing. The excellent bread would have been better served standing alone rather than buried under a drift of quark cheese that lacked complexity and was crowned with radish slices that lacked zing. As we said, not bad, but not worth taking up the stomach space better occupied by other offers.
The potato salad was not at all to our taste. Top shelf German or Viennese potato salad is a room-temperature treat. Unlike the mayonnaise-based Fourth Of July version, the European offering is more subtly seasoned with vinegar and herbs, and is typically built around red bliss potatoes cut into slices or cubes — a far cry from this unappetizing looking slop that more resembled bum barf than anything I'd recently seen on a sidewalk. This version was a freezing cold swampy mush of mashed potatoes and herbs that we’d suggest avoiding. As ever, your mileage may vary.
This place is LOUD with a capital OMFG!!! To add auditory insult to eardrum injury, the rock music blaring from the Heavy Metal concert size speakers on the ceiling was louder still. The hard wooden chairs will be an equal bane to the sensitive buttocks as the decibel level is to the sensitive ear. This space is not the venue for a romantic dinner. Given that we’re approaching Valentines Day, if you’re going to celebrate or propose anything other than a mutually consenting adult agreement to go home and do the horizontal hula, we propose that you propose that proposal elsewhere. We will also give the Biergarten a pass on the tortoise-slow service as the kitchen was overwhelmed by the packed crowd, and the staff, though ever-cheerful, was under siege by an oversize army of demanding diners. Though today marked our second visit, it was also the official Grand Opening, and as we left, we noticed a higgledy piggledy line of famished folk outside waiting to get in that was a nearly a city block long. We imagine that after Memorial Day, you won’t be able to get within a quarter mile of the place.
That said, the Festhalle & Biergarten is a truly fun venue serving up great German comfort food and drink. Given that you just may walk out of there stone deaf, you might not hear your stomach gurgling with gratitude. Nevertheless, essen!