By Kurt Epps—the PubScout
You would think a torrential downpour (which caused major flooding) might dampen a grand opening of a Hoboken Biergarten—and you would be wrong. Not only did Andy Ivanov and Co. get the flood cleaned up, they opened their doors after the storm passed—and another storm came in, this time of customers. The 402 person capacity may have been exceeded, but it was also matched during my visit there tonight, as the local gentry just kept coming in to see what this Biergarten business was all about. The building itself may have been an old warehouse, and entering through a gate to what looks like a big backyard was novel.
Set aside the very impressive beer list and Thomas Ferlesch's outstanding food for a moment. This Biergarten, located in "the mature end" of Ol' Blue Eyes' city, is authentic in many ways, and, if you have a good eye and ear, you may well believe that you've gone back to the 1930s or 40s somewhere in Austria or Germany where the Biergarten is a way of life. No fancy tables with window seats and white glove waiter service…just long benches and long block tables designed to accommodate crowds and enable people—even perfect strangers to engage each other, over some of the finest beers Europe and America have to offer.
Walk in by yourself, with your date or with twenty friends ( I doubt the Pilsener Haus takes reservations), and you're sure to find a comfortable place to consume your food and grog. Enjoy the conversation or just "people-watch." It's all good.
Note the lighting and the fixtures—old fashioned ceramic stays and exposed wires, giant lanterns with soft lights and candles everywhere, while music that sounds like Edith Piaf plays in the background. The walls, taps, barstools and art will all transport the sharp-eyed observer back in time, and most wouldn't be surprised if Bogie himself sauntered through the door.
Order up a Stiegl and a Sausage Platter (large enough for two), or quaff an Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen with any meat dish in either of the two inside rooms or out on the umbrella'ed patio. You'll find yourself doing exactly what Andrei Ivanov had in mind when he concocted the idea of filling this niche.
Though the premise of social quaffing may be similar, a biergarten experience is different from that of a pub or tavern. Having been in biergartens in Die Faderland and here in America, it's a very special ambience, and Ivanov and Co. have captured it. My two quaffing partners on this visit—Mike Clayton, head wrestling coach at Stevens Institute, and Rob Dickerson, newly appointed SubScout, were both very impressed and vowed to return. Clayton has special plans for his wrestling alumni that I'm sure will please them.
But simply beer alone can't do it. There has to be hearty, delicious food, too and Chef Tom Ferlesch has seen to that. He began cooking school at the age of 14 in Austria. Three years later, he struck out to look for work and found it. He even did a stint at the prestigious Southampton Princess Hotel in Bermuda. But, at age 21, he set his sights on the Big Apple and has built a fine reputation for his food. Be sure to ask for the wurst he created…it is killer, especially in the dark brown sauce.
And speaking of "killer," take a gander at the waitstaff. Besides Leslie, Chris and Erica--imagine my surprise to see Gina (from The Brick) beautifying the floor of yet another great place. The barstaff knows their beer, too. Rick, who is related to one of the Alstroms of Beer Advocate, was friendly, knowledgeable and on target with his recommendations.
The food menu, like the beer menu, is extensive, and charcuterie-style. If you want, you can just get up and visit one of the grillers and tell him what you desire. It will be at your place in minutes. The beers come in a variety of Old World glassware, too, from "shorty" mugs to Huge HofbrauHaus mugs you could bathe in, to oversized weisse bier glasses. Don't expect the waitresses to heft five of those big mugs per hand, like their counterparts in Munchen often do. Their muscles aren't that big yet, as they've only been open two days. What's important is that they bring one beer—yours. The Pilsener Haus even has its very own beer, made in Germany by Bitburger.
Andrei Ivanov and Ladi Sebestyan have taken a big gamble in the hopes that Americans will warm to this European style of drinking and dining. If the crowds on the first two nights are any indication, they may have hit the jackpot.
Oktoberfest season here should be off the charts. The Pilsener Haus Biergarten will be on The PubScout's charts, hopefully for many years to come.
Don't forget to check out the downloadable pics on the right. And here's a live video of owner Andy.
Copyright 2011 Kurt Epps All rights reserved