Cafe Reviews

Suds (Mostly) Trump the Grub at Brat Haus

Art lovers have Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, Springsteen (and Jerry Maguire) fans have their "Secret Garden," but when it comes to a place where malted barley is cultivated like the most delicate of seedlings, a beer garden may be the one place nearly every hophead craves a romp through.

Six months ago, restaurateur Dave Andrea (formerly with Old Town Tortilla Factory, Wild Noodles, and Fat Slim's BBQ) put down roots for his own beer garden in Old Town. Called Brat Haüs, it's the Scottsdale version of a beer hall: a clean and comfortable gastropub with two tiny buildings flanking a spacious beer garden. The outdoor area, peppered with picnic tables, potted plants, and strings of bistro lights, usually fills up before the indoor spaces do.

And it's at Brat Haüs where nearly 30 beers on tap and almost 40 in bottles and cans aim to satisfy the city's legion of craft beer lovers. A strong German or Belgian brew? Got it. A rich golden ale from California? Sure, bottle or draft? How about a double IPA topped with a Russian imperial stout? Comin' right up. Even teetotalers have a wide variety to pick from. There's a pleasantly lip-puckering housemade lemonade and such obscure sodas as Fever Tree Ginger Beer, Jelly Belly Vanilla Cream, and Kickapoo Joy Juice.

Along with the suds comes the grub, and for that, Andrea's partnered with former Digestif and Caffe Boa chef Payton Curry. His locally focused menu of homemade sausages, German specialties, and house-pickled fare pairs well with the sour, fruity, hoppy, and rich flavors of its brewed brethren. With enough notice, Curry will even roast an entire pig for a family feast at home.

But for all of Curry's efforts — some stellar and others less so — the food complements the beer, and not the other way around. At Brat Haüs, the taps trump the kitchen; and despite the more food-inclined who would like to think otherwise, the drinkers have the advantage.

Which isn't to say there aren't good dishes to be had.

There are very good pretzels — warm, crunchy, soft, and with a perfect amount of salt — served with an array of housemade mustards and an exceptional curry ketchup. They're better than the often-overcooked Belgian fries. More hearty, but sweetly so, is a steaming bowl of scratch-made Jäger Stew, with chunky pieces of beef, potatoes, carrots, and apples. And for those seeking fruits and vegetables in this house of swine, the salads are top-notch. A shredded kale and pear creation, with long slices of jicama, candied pecans, and a light citrus vinaigrette, makes for a just-right light meal of the fresh and crunchy sort.

If you happen to have companions along, you'll want the charcuterie. With selections like salty pecorino topped with sticky golden honeycomb, a full-flavored house pâté, and wonderfully sweet, salty, and gooey bacon-wrapped dates more suited to a candy dish than a skewer, it's a crowd-pleasing plate of noteworthy tastes.

Like most gastropubs, Brat Haüs does burgers. But in the case of my "Haüs Favorite," layered with ground Niman Ranch beef, lettuce, tomato pickles, and Curry's "hush hush" sauce (like Thousand Island with a bit of heat), my well-done patty (I was not asked for a temperature preference) proved dense and dry. And the thick, bready bun did little to help matters.

Of course, there are the brats, the grilled sausages that pair so well with a strong, hoppy brew. But despite the gastopub's name, brats are not what Brat Haüs does best. Served up in toasted baguettes, most are less juicy than you would expect and lack a distinctive snap of the skin when you bite into them. Some varieties — a smoky and slightly spicy chorizo, for instance — work better than others, like the sausage made of rabbit, tarragon, and hoppy beer. It's more exotic in name than in taste. Thankfully, mustards and a selection of toppings, including tangy sauerkraut, sweet root beer onions, and an apricot onion chutney, help to improve the dryness and overall flavor.

If you really want a sausage, go all out and order up some first-rate currywurst. An interpretation of Germany's traditional proletarian snack of sliced pork sausage doused in a curry-tomato sauce, chef Curry's is a full-size meal. Featuring two juicy, jumbo-size pork sausages coated in his signature curry ketchup atop crispy, sliced heirloom spuds, this piled-high plate of potatoes and meat nearly begs to be washed down with an equally hearty German ale.

There are other German specialties as well. Contrary to a dry and overcooked pork schnitzel, the sauerbraten beef short ribs are juicy and soft with a pleasingly pickled tang, served alongside tender and chewy spätzle and braised red cabbage. And Curry's gourmet take on the classic German potato salad is basically an American breakfast by way of Berlin — warm sauerkraut, smoked potatoes, and bacon topped with a fried egg.

For those looking for a sweet ending to their meal, it probably goes without saying that in this haüs of beer, the drunken date cake, a cube of moist, spongy cake made with Four Peaks Oatmeal Stout and doused in a dark caramel sauce, is the best dessert of the bunch.

Whether meals are served in the beer garden, inside the small dining house, or its more boisterous (often quite loud) and equally tiny bar, count on the service being helpful and friendly — even when the taller team members clack their heads on the plastic beer boots lining the tavern's wooden walls.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld