I have a problem with Oktoberfest. I love German beer and German food. What bothers me is misuse of the term. The Munich Oktoberfest actually runs the last couple of weeks of September up until the first of October. In America it’s become a marketing ploy with little relation to the original festival, where “Oktober” = any day in October. Even so, my sister Glynda and I usually share an Oktoberfest at least once a year, and this time our scheduling just didn’t work out. So, we headed out to the Bavarian Pretzel Factory for a late October feast.
I had visited before, with mixed results. The first time I arrived at 6:30, just as they were closing. I had no clue that in their original location they weren’t open for dinner. 6:30 was just…odd. I finally did have lunch there with my friend Keith a couple of months ago and had prepared to do a write-up then. However, as we were finishing up I overheard our waitress telling another customer that they would soon move to a new location. I decided to hold off until I could visit the new place, since anything I wrote would soon be outdated.
Linda Sue Gschnitzer opened the restaurant on Woodruff Road several years ago, after moving to South Carolina from Bavaria in 2007. The original restaurant was a small storefront in an out-parcel row of stores in front of the Target on Woodruff Road. There were a few long tables, trying to evoke the spirit of the beer halls of Munich, but there really wasn’t much space for a restaurant.
When Haus Edelweiss closed for good this left an opportunity for BPF to expand. In fact, our waitress on that first visit had originally been at Haus Edelweiss, and I recognized her from there. The empty Italian Market location behind the Barnes and Noble on Congaree Road was available, so last month BPF moved into that space, easily quadrupling the size of the original restaurant. Along with the expanded space came expanded hours, and a large space for a retail outlet. From the looks of their website, it appears that Bavarian Pretzel Factory has plans to expand to more location.
Glynda’s first impression was that the place seemed a bit…sterile. There were none of the rich wood tones that tend to define Bavarian decor. All of the tables, chairs, and seemingly every stick of furniture was an unfinished blonde wood literally branded (as in burned in with a hot iron) with the Bavarian Pretzel Factory crest.
Even the privacy dividers in the restrooms were of the same wood and each piece sported a brand. My first thought was that if this place goes under, they would have a hard time disposing of the furnishings. We’ll hope that doesn’t happen.
The new location kept pretty much the same layout as the former Italian Market. One enters past a bar to get to the main seating. Here there seemed to be a bit more decor and warm tones.
The main dining area is divided into three sections. In addition to the main room, there is a separate, smaller room running the length of the main dining area, and another large glassed in room. I think this third room leads out to a “beer garden”, which I had seen walled off outside. Either of these rooms could be closed off from the main dining for special events. There is also a separate, smaller section set aside for the deli, bakery and retail.
When we first arrived there was a large group in one dining room, and several patrons at tables on the portico. In our area there were only two other tables occupied. The large open spaces made the place look a bit empty, when there were actually quite a few people there. As the evening progressed, a large group of German-speaking men occupied one of the tables in our area. We took that as a good sign. Other diners filtered in and out. It looked like there was fairly steady traffic, even if the place did look empty. I think that has more to do with the decor and arrangement than the actual number of bodies.
I believe the menu was the same one I’d seen at the former location, but with the addition of dinner items. There are salads, a daily soup, and some appetizer selections. The dinner menu includes the expected – Jägerschniztel and other schniztels, Frikadellen, Käsespätzle, and other umlaut laden names. These range in price from $8 to $16, with most hovering in the $13-$14 range.
There was a section entitled “Brotzeit”, which literally translates to “Bread Time.” Here one finds the sandwiches, including Reubens and other deli offerings. Here one can also find the wurst and sausages. These range from $7 to $9. One note – it looks like their Reuben uses mustard instead of Thousand Island, so if you’re a Reuben purist, as am I, then you may want to skip it, or see if they can amend it.
Bavarian Pretzel Factory is also open for breakfast, and there are several items. These look like what we would call “continental” breakfasts, and sound very much like the breakfasts I had when I was in Germany. There is also müsli, Belgian waffles, and French Toast, so that they hit most of the western continent. These range from $5 to $8.
I tend to prefer the lighter wurst, such as Fleischkäse, Weisswurst, or the Nuremberg brats, to the heavier, traditional bratwurst. I still like all of it, but I was pleased to see some options on the menu. Glynda ordered the bratwurst with sauerkraut and potato salad, and I ordered Weisswurst, also with sauerkraut and potato salad. Our plates would come with two sausages, so we planned to swap so that we could have one of each.
Glynda’s food arrived and looked about like one would expect…
Mine, on the other hand, took me by surprise…
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to eat it like a soup, or fish out the sausages. I decided upon the latter. After I’d made the choice and we were well into the meal, I inquired about the serving. Our waitress said that the wurst were boiled, then served in the bowl to keep them hot. I had done the right thing.
The meal also came with a basket that had a couple of rolls and the signature pretzels. We got both spicy and sweet mustard on the side to try with the meal.
The flavors were excellent. I especially liked the tangy potato salad, obviously made with copious amounts of vinegar. This made a nice counterbalance to the sweet sauerkraut. As for the sausages, my preference was for the Weisswurst with the spicy mustard, but the brats were good, too. I completely cleaned my plate.
The pretzels and bread were the biggest disappointment. Both had the taste and texture of cardboard. Since the word “pretzel” is in their name, one would have thought that these would be better. Addition of mustard helped some. There was so much of the other food that it was OK that we didn’t feel like finishing the bread. I think a softer roll might have been better. In fairness, there was one oatmeal roll that we just didn’t get to because we were both stuffed. It might have fit the bill.
We washed this down with a couple of mugs of Spaten Münchner Hell, which is a light pilsner lager. Glynda declared to be an excellent beer. It was a perfect compliment to the meal. Never mind that the glasses had Paulaner on them.
We didn’t save room for dessert. I did ask our waitress for dessert options for future reference. She said that these change daily, and suggested that we stop by the bakery and store on our way out. We did just that, and found a counter with a case containing cheesecake, pies, and streusel, and strudel (and I now think I understand the difference between those two.) They were tempting, but we resisted taking anything with more calories home.
There was also a case with cheeses and deli meats, and fresh-baked breads lined the other walls.
Service was OK, but the timing seemed off a bit. It took awhile for our waitress to acknowledge us, and she would leave us alone for long periods of time that were just starting to get awkward when she would pop back around. We noticed that other tables had baskets of bread as appetizers prior to the meal. Ours was brought AFTER our main courses had arrived. However, she was knowledgeable about the menu and the beers on tap.
The restaurant itself seemed to be well-staffed. I counted five waitstaff, all attired in more formal all-black than the come-as-you-may attire for the waiters at the other German restaurants I’ve visited recently. Just the number of waiters and the way they were dressed made me thing that BPF is aiming for a classier appearance than its former store-front location.
Our experience was overall quite positive. The food was pricy, but excellent. Even so, it’s still in line with what other places charge. One of these days I’m going to have break down and try something besides wurst, but it helps to have a standard against which to judge similar restaurants. I will definitely be back.
I like the food, and I wish Bavarian Pretzel Factory success. However, there were subtle signs that make me worry. First, the place is off the main drag, and I haven’t seen any signs or advertising to point people to their new location. The restaurant crest is visible from Haywood Road on the building’s tower, but it’s just the crest and no indication of what might be there. They need to do a better job of getting the word out.
As for the customers, the parking lot looks full, but the restaurant looks empty. I think some darker tones and adjusting the seating a bit would mitigate that. You don’t want patrons thinking that they are the only ones eating there – they get suspicious. I’d like to come back on a weekend and see if business is better.
Secondly, it looks like they have taken on HUGE overhead. The building itself must have set them back a fortune, and all of the custom-branded furniture and black-attired waiters don’t come cheaply. I hope they have deep pockets. I also hope that they don’t plan to expand too soon. I’ve seen that happen with too many other restaurants which eventually had to fold because they had taken on too much debt too quickly.
Even so, they pretty much have a corner on the German cuisine in the area. Schwaben House is good, but is not centrally located, is a bit pricier still, and focuses on one specific type of German Cuisine. Hans und Franz is just…weird. I don’t trust any place that puts ketchup and mustard on wurst without asking. With the demise of Haus Edelweiss, that leaves Bavarian Pretzel Factory. I do hope they make it.