Brauhaus Schmitz

Where wurst is best.

By Adam Erace
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Oct. 6, 2009

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Stein mart: Giant beers, homemade pretzels and girls in dirndls­—Brauhaus Schmitz is the closest to Germany you can get on Septa.

Photo by Michael Persico

There was no mistaking it; caraway buried in Brauhaus Schmitz’s bratwurst like little savory anise landmines. Ginger, mace and clove also pervaded the pork sausage, but the caraway dominated, sure and confident as hell. The spice is traditional, and tradition is the unbendable backbone of this Prussian-blue beer hall.

Brauhaus is the brainchild of German-born, Upper Darby-bred Doug Hager and Jersey girl Kelly Schmitz, who met in 2002 while Hager was waiting tables at Ludwig’s. After marrying and moving to Cologne for two years, the couple returned to Philly and transformed a dilapidated furniture store—the mezzanine sold them on the offbeat property and South Street location—into a grand Teutonic taproom replete with salvaged church pew booths, soaring ceilings and cedar arches.

From waitresses’ dirndl costumes to the continent-sized schnitzels, Brauhaus Schmitz is an authentic recreation, but for executive chef Jeremy Nolen, late of Coquette, being beholden to tradition is both a blessing and curse.

The ridiculous portions exemplify the latter. You know the brontosaurus rack they prop on Fred’s driver-side window in the Flintstone’s intro? That was the schweinshaxe, a mustard-rubbed rotisserie Berkshire pork shank. Crispy schnitzel extended over my plate like an awning, shading errant crumbs on the handsome tables Hager built with his brother and designer Brian Leahy. “It’s German,” seems to be the default explanation for the monstrous portions. So is Heidi Klum, and she’s looking pretty trim.

I’m sure certain customers appreciate the largesse. My grandparents, for instance, would pop their stents for portions this big. But the value is an illusion, because even with two sides, $20 is a lot to spend for what is essentially pounded pork and breadcrumbs. Give me half the portion, at half the price.

I probably only ate $8 worth of the jägerschnitzel, the “hunter’s-style” cutlet smothered in wild mushroom and onion sauce. This was partly because of size, partly because of the nasty gravy. Loose, lumpy and tobacco-brown, it tasted burned and looked better suited to a restaurant called Brauhaus Shits. But my server was so nervously nice, I doggy-bagged the remainder out of politeness. Fortunately, a bum who looked like Rickety Cricket took it off my hands. Thanks, South Street.

Blandness is another German cuisine stereotype Brauhaus Schmitz enforced on occasion. The pork shank, schnitzel and dense potato dumpling all so severely lacked salt, I found it hard to reconcile them with Nolen’s other, wonderfully flavored items like the extraordinary bratwurst and sweet-and-sour cabbage that got its dynamic twang (and vivid magenta hue) from red wine vinegar and red currant preserves. A slice of brat, cabbage draped about it like garish pink garland, a smack of the hot German mustard from the quaint ceramic pots on each table … I don’t know a more perfect bite. Nolen knows his way around these classics, having cooked at Reading’s utmost private German clubs.

With the exception of the bratwurst, Nolen imports all the sausages from Reiker’s Meats, a German butcher in Fox Chase. I would encourage him to make more in-house if Reiker’s weren’t so good. Their delicate, ivory veal-and-pork weisswurst offered hints of mace, parsley and lemon zest, a bright equalizer for the springy, nutmeg-dusted spaetzle tossed in melted butter. I washed it down with Leipziger Gose, an exhilarating, unfiltered, hazy yellow chameleon with pilsner crispness, witbier effervescence and the lip-puckering finish of a great Belgian Geuze. “We are the first in Philadelphia to offer this beer on draught,” touts Brauhaus’ menu, and for that I am grateful.

Hager has assembled 19 other draughts—80 bottles too—on three systems, including one tower whose blue-and-white calico, Slovenian porcelain base had been collecting dust in Schmitz’s father’s attic for years. Despite Pennsylvania’s German heritage, many of the beers at Brauhaus are uncommon in these parts, so drink up.

To complement, there’s a menu of cheap bar snacks. The excellent salt-crusted Bavarian pretzel, baked by Nolen’s wife Jessica, was one such treat, exhaling yeasty steam as I pulled the warm twist apart. She also does desserts, including fine sachertorte. The dark chocolate puck laced with apricot jam is—gasp!—actually Austrian in origin. Maybe that German backbone isn’t so unbendable after all. ■

Brauhaus Schmitz

718 South St. 267.909.8814.

Cuisine: German.

Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11:30am-10:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 5pm-11pm. Late-night menu till midnight. Bar till 2am.

Prices: $3-$28.

Atmosphere: Sky-blue walls and sky-high ceilings framing a bierhall furnished with warm wood, exposed brick and thirsty patrons.

Service: Friendly, if a bit unsteady.

Food: Transportingly delicious, or enormous and underseasoned.

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. Ed Feldman said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 04:02PM

“Fox Chase is in America”

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2. Brewer said... on Mar 7, 2010 at 03:38PM

“Went there with 8 friends last night. Upon finishing dinner and several beers, the owner Doug comes over with several friends and sits at our table. Doug is plastered and says "if they aren't going to drink they should just leave" we were all stunned, as we had several empty mugs on the table and some of us were still drinking. His friend also starting eating my friends desert. Needless to say we paid our 300 check and left quickly. This guy Doug is a complete jerk and if he continues to treat customers that way he will be closed pretty soon.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Mar 17, 2010 at 09:15PM

“The bartender called my friend an idiot today. not coming back.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jun 11, 2010 at 03:21PM

“I can count the number of times that I have walked out of a restaurant because of poor service on one hand, and two of those fingers are for this place. Servers are smiley but don't seem to care that the kitchen takes 45 minutes to plate up brats and potato salad. No hustle, pure ambivlence. Shame because it's a nice room and good location, but wont waste my time going back.”

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5. PPABootSquadVinnie said... on Oct 11, 2012 at 12:39PM

“I'm going there tonight [10/11/2012] for Restaurant Week, I hope I can provide a Timely update to these 2010 comments :-() ?
I'm thinking no one had a bad experience here since 06/2010 or the haters would have been all over this like a FooBooz post! They've got a whole 'nother room too. Can't Wait.”


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