Accordion music boomed from Schnitzel Garten's patio speakers as liter steins were hoisted and sloshed together in frothy cheers. A little girl in a dirndl dress and a boy in tiny lederhosen scampered around a long, lacquered wood table where their grandmothers sat carving bite-sized coins from thick bratwurst sausages.
It was the most picturesque Bavarian beer garden experience I've had in the Treasure Valley. But that doesn't say much. Opened by German transplant Courtland Hugues in an Eagle strip mall in late May, Schnitzel Garten is the only German restaurant in the area. And it certainly trumpets the theme.
German words like "willkommen," "privatweg" and "damen" are sprinkled across the Eagle restaurant's signage, while all of the beers served are imports--Bitburger, Hofbrau, Paulaner and Spaten are available in half-liter, liter or enormous 2-liter boot mugs. Even the "wein" list sticks to the region, offering an array of rieslings and German or Austrian reds. On the food menu, most entrees fall under the schnitzel or wurst categories, with some spaetzle and goulash thrown in for good measure.
But while the food might seem foreign at first blush, it has more in common with American pub grub than meets the eye. The schnitzel are thinly pounded, deep-fried cutlets of chicken, pork or veal. When topped with a gooey layer of cheese and served with a side of fries, the whole dish looks suspiciously American. As does the spaetzle, which resembles a lumpy pile of mac and cheese.
I opted for the pork Jager Schnitzel ($20), which had a thin golden crust and was heaped with a mound of creamy "hunter style" mushrooms. Though the 'shrooms had an intriguing hint of cinnamon, the sauce could've used a healthy shake of salt and some sort of acid to cut all the fat. The side of spaetzle was equally bland, but the lightly creamy, dill-flecked cucumber salad was a great compliment to the heavy meal. As was a Hofbrau Dunkel ($6, half-liter, $10 liter), which was smooth and light-bodied for a dark beer.
While the menu says that all of the restaurant's sausages are produced in Idaho using Schnitzel Garten recipes, the Rindswurst ($9) needs some tweaking. The thick beef brats were disappointingly dry and benefited only slightly from the shreds of lightly vinegary sauerkraut and globs of mediocre house mustard.
After my date's and my plates had been cleared, a couple sitting across from us at the long patio table shared a bite of their delightfully tart apfelstrudel, studded with apples, raisins, a crisscross of light vanilla sauce and a dusting of powdered sugar. Aside from the beer and the atmosphere, it was the most memorable part of the meal.
Schnitzel Garten might be the only Bavarian biergarten in the area, but it's certainly not the only place serving good beer and mediocre pub grub on a pleasant patio.