When you think about German restaurants, do you picture a meat-heavy, kitschy German caricature? A dingy rathskeller decorated with Gothic fonts and griffins? Biergarten Germania (275 E Fourth St, St. Paul) takes a refreshingly different approach: a small, balanced menu, a space with minimal decor (in the former Golden’s Deli space), and an emphasis on keeping both feet solidly planted in the Lowertown terroir.
The concise menu ranges from traditional German bratwurst and schnitzel to less traditionally German fare like falafel and bisque. The beer list is split between German and Minnesota brews. With sports on the television (your St. Paul headquarters for Bundesliga games) and long communal tables and benches, Biergarten Germania aims to be a real beer hall as opposed to a German-themed restaurant.
We started with the Potato Pancakes ($9). Thin and crispy, almost puffy in appearance, they were a pastrylike foil for the accompanying sour cream and cinnamon-smacked apple jelly. Diced green onion and bacon bits rounded out the flavor but didn’t interfere with an apple pie vibe. The Butternut Squash Bisque ($6) was equally flavorful — rich, creamy, and buttery. Toasted pumpkin seeds were an especially nice touch.
The wurst in the Hausegemachte (house-made) Brat Sandwich ($10) was amply spiced in its well-browned, snappy casing. This sausage could stand next to Kramarczuk’s version, maybe even winning in a foot race. It’s served for lunch on a soft, toasted bun, with brown mustard and plenty of house-made kraut on the side. The kraut is coarse-cut and mouth-puckeringly sour, with a good texture. The pickled cucumbers on the side were also delicious.
As for the terroir, we talked to head chef Serge Kogan, and he is visibly excited about plans to implement a “probiotic fermentation program” using the bounty of vegetables that will soon start appearing at the St. Paul Farmers Market across the street. He’s currently developing a culture in the limestone basement (“A perfect cave”) of the Northwestern Building to use for fermentation. The kraut and cucumbers are a promising indication of what’s to come.
The Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich ($10) was described by one taster as “the best sandwich I’ve had in a long time.” And while that might sound like hyperbole, it’s a fair assessment. The seven-seed bread was soft yet sturdy; the schnitzel was tender and juicy, and lightly fried without a hint of grease. Add mustard, mayo, and a thick slice of tomato that might have traveled back in time from the coming peak tomato season, and you’ve got a perfectly composed sandwich. The Cucumber Salad ($3) was a little heavy on the red onion for our taste but perfectly dressed in dill and vinegar, and very fresh tasting. The Spätzle ($3) were little buttery wisps of dough with a rich, brothy, umami flavor.
There are few notable German restaurants in the metro area, so Biergarten Germania — with its relatively light culinary touch, its emphasis on being of Lowertown, St. Paul (a drink named for Bill Murray is a nice touch), and its informal vibe — is a welcome twist on the formula.
German beer hall in Lowertown, St. Paul
275 E 4th St
St. Paul, MN 55101
Tue-Wed 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Thu 11 a.m.-midnight
Fri 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sat 8 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sun 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
OWNER / CHEF: Kari Richtsmeier / Serge Kogan
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Ask
ENTREE RANGE: $9-$18
NOISE LEVEL: Beer hall
PARKING: Street, nearby pay lots