If you’re a history buff, you probably already know about the (very) recently opened Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery in St. Paul. Originally opened as a German lager beer saloon in 1857, the new brewery is a lovingly refurbished tribute to the original venture, replete with hand-hewn woodwork and decked out with interior details that transport a visitor more than 150 years back in time.
The brewery’s interior restoration includes maps, antique clocks, wood stoves, 19th-century steamboat chairs, paraffin lamps, and enough additional period stuff (including a mounted buffalo head) that you’ll feel well and truly immersed in an earlier era by the time your beer and food arrive. Whether that’s a good thing is up to you — there is an antique shop / historic re-creation feel to the place that takes some getting used to, but it’s also obviously and appealingly one-of-a-kind.
About that food: The menu has a number of intriguing options (the Herring Plate, $10, and Smoked Fish Plate, $12, really tempted us), but the heart of the document is the Wurst Plank ($20), a collection of all three of the menu’s wursts, plus three sides, a bread, and three condiments: two excellent house-made mustards and a house-made ketchup that is one of only two we’ve ever really liked (Red River Kitchen has the other one).
The bratwurst, made by former Seward Co-op butcher Karl Gerstenberger, is about as good as it gets. Both the bratwurst and the currywurst were finely and evenly ground, tender, and remarkably juicy without being excessively moist. The bratwurst’s seasoning was spot on — enough salt and spice to complement and frame the flavor of the meat without swamping it. Gerstenberger got his start cooking in California restaurants including Stars, Chez Panisse, and Oliveto, and he’s bringing all his talents to bear at Waldmann, presenting simple food done beautifully well. The Red Dog (by Red Table Meats) deserves a shout, too. It’s firm and snappy, with a milder, more natural note of the paprika “hot dog flavor” that we associate with this classic street food.
The Wurst Plank’s sides and condiments were uniformly excellent, as well. Our strudel-cut dumpling (known in German as Wickelklösse) was toothsome and beautifully seasoned, offering flavors of salt and butter and tasting all the better for that simplicity. The Limestone Potatoes (cooked under a slab of Platteville bedrock) were something akin to a well-browned hash brown cake, with a tender interior and crispy-crunchy outside. And the Cold Sauerkraut was truly a good friend to the bratwurst, bringing heat, acid, and earthy character without much sugar or fat of its own. Our only complaint about the sides would be that we could happily have eaten twice as much of them.
Missing from the Wurst Plank — and the entire menu, for that matter — were buns. It’s hard not to admire the purist attitude that would present artful wurst like this in a naked state, ready to be dressed with house-made condiments, but it seems likely that Waldmann will run into a stream of customers (maybe some Wisconsinites?) who want their lunchtime wurst on the bun. When we emailed Gerstenberger about it, he wrote back: “I wanted/still want a semmel roll. Right now we’re baking off quality par bake dinner rolls as a stop gap. At present we’re in an options mode (Aki rye, Brake Bread Granny, or roll) with planks and wursts. We’ll soon standardize the buns (or hopefully a semmel) and likely offer a bread basket with butter or lard.”
We tried two beers ($5), and liked them both. The Oktoberfest was remarkably refreshing and light on the palate, lacking the sometimes syrupy finish that malt-forward beers can suffer from. The beer presented a bright smoothness of flavor that made it remarkably easy to drink without being monotonous.
We found Waldmann’s Hefeweizen enjoyable but puzzling, initially. It was malt-driven and evocative of cloves and other warm spices, and was actually less refreshing and summer-ready than the Oktoberfest. A quick conversation with brewer Drew Ruggles after lunch set things straight. He’d been shooting for something halfway between a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen, and the darker, stronger character of the dunkel had taken the reins. As we sail into colder weather, that’s probably a good choice. Once you’ve had a hefeweizen on a patio on a humid 90-degree day, it can be hard to enjoy in other settings.
Waldmann is a rare duck, a restaurant doing a simple, approachable menu with utmost seriousness. The food’s uniformly good, the setting’s unique, and the excitement over the brewery’s mission is palpable. Here’s hoping they can wring another 160 years out of the space.
Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery
Taproom and Sausage Restaurant off West Seventh in St. Paul
445 Smith Ave
St. Paul, MN 55102
OWNER / CHEF / BREWER: Tom Schroeder / Karl Gerstenberger / Drew Ruggles
Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Mon Closed for private events
Tue-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m. midnight
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes, if you like cheese / No
ENTREE RANGE: $10-$16
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Six-car lot, limited street parking