So, Tacoma, I guess you really were eager to check out that new beer hall.
Since its mid-February opening, the lines at Rhein Haus Tacoma have been treacherous enough for the restaurant to issue a Facebook apology for running out of food, stating it “has prepped and cooked as much food in the last five days as our Seattle location does in two weeks.”
Wait a few weeks before visiting. If you can’t wait, bring patience and understand that no restaurant, no matter its size, can manage that kind of crush. That’s one reason why it is this paper’s policy to withhold criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month — to make sure we are being fair to a fledgling restaurant that’s overwhelmed. That being said, here’s a first-bite report based on two visits.
Those lines: Common to see a line of 50-100 people before the restaurant opens, with a two-hour wait for seating. Bring camping chairs?
The space: It’s nothing like we have in Tacoma. It’s warm and cozy, which is odd considering how immense the space is (around 14,000 square feet). Two full bars flank the expansive hall divided by bocce courts, two by the front windows and two in the center past the fireplace. That fireplace, with wrap-around seating, is a stone creation soaring tall near the center of the space.
The warmth comes from top-to-bottom wood — from the exposed ceiling beams, wood-planked floor in parts of the space and wood gates encasing the bocce courts. Alpine murals soar up the walls. A few communal-size tables contribute to the beer-hall theme. The roar of the crowd surprisingly was less than expected at capacity. Kudos to the designer.
The background: The Tacoma outpost is a duplicate of Seattle’s Rhein Haus (with another outpost in Denver). Sibling restaurants include Seattle’s Bastille, Poquitos, Macleod’s Scottish Pub and Stoneburner.
Menu theme: New American-Northwest-German pub food with chef’s spins that push it into the territory of German-American fusion (I dislike that word, but it fits here). People have asked me to compare/contrast to Lakewood’s Bruno’s European Restaurant, which serves honest-to-goodness German grandma food.
Bruno’s is what you’d eat at a Sunday family dinner, with mounded plates of excellent homestyle food. For comparison: Bruno’s schnitzel is a broad pork cutlet, crispy jacketed with bread crumbs, served with a vinegar-doused cucumber salad and dense potato dumplings with a ladle of slippery brown gravy ($15.95). At Rhein Haus, the schnitzel is a pork cutlet breaded with crushed pretzels, served with a shallot butter caper sauce, tart apple slaw and charred lemon ($18). Spot the differences?
Menu highlights: Seven housemade sausages plated with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and horseradish ($12-$13). Sausages on pretzel buns with fries and a pickle ($12-$14). Nine appetizers, including fresh-baked pretzels, currywurst, mini brats and schnitzel sliders ($5-$16). Half dozen entrees ($15-$22). Four flammkuchen (German flatbread pizza, $16-$18). Five desserts, including housemade Berliners ($6).
Delving into the entrees: Sauerbraten kohlrolle ($20) was a mashup of two German favorites — cabbage rolls and the slow-cooked, vinegar-tinged beef dish, sauerbraten. This version swapped purple for green cabbage with a dense stuffing of shredded sauerbraten. Served with a side of steamed Yukon gold potatoes and sour cream sauce ($20).
Kaesespaetzle was a modern version of spaetzle made with goat cheese and topped with oven-dried tomatoes and grana padano cheese ($15).
A more traditional slow-cooked pork shank, schweinshaxe, came topped with a squiggle of quince mustard and straightforward spaetzle (delicious, slippery boiled egg noodles) with butternut squash and cabbage ($22).
Sausages entered familiar German territory. A plate of a half dozen fresh housemade Nuremberg sausages, dotted with fresh marjoram and plated with mashed potatoes and caraway-licked sauerkraut ($13). Bratwurst on a pretzel bun was flanked with skins-on fries and a side of curry ketchup ($13). Sausages are good for a first visit. So is the giant pretzel built for sharing with four dipping sauces ($15).
Menu guidance: Gluten-free and vegetarian options, including vegan sausage.
Booze: 13 lagers ($5-$16) on tap; plus a dozen more wheat, India pale ale, sours and ciders ($5.50-$16). Bottled Belgians and cider ($5-$15). Fifteen specialty cocktails and schnapps ($3-$12). French, German and Washington wines by the glass ($6-$11) or bottle ($23-$48).
In the kitchen: On-site executive chef Kelly Wilson. Company executive chef is Pete Fjosne.
Note: Weekend brunch coming soon. Four bocce courts, plus shuffleboard. Bocce prices start at $5-$8 per person.