Traditional European biergartens are large, open air, high-ceilinged halls filled with row upon row of picnic tables and benches where all classes of people bring their own lunches and buy, well, beer. Lots of beer. And preferably, a hearty German selection.
The Pilsener Haus and Biergarten in Hoboken takes this concept to an entirely new level of modernity and entertainment, beer and cuisine. The restaurant – which is a loose term, mostly because it is an insufficient description for the location’s massive size, many functions, and many atmospheric offerings – was opened on Aug. 8 by owners Ladislav Sebestyan and Andrej Ivanov after three years of renovation.
They transformed the space that served as an old belt factory warehouse circa 1910, which was a bit of a mess. “We ripped it apart,” Sebestyan said. “It was in pretty bad shape, and it took three years to fix, but good things take time.”
Pilsener Haus and Biergarten is definitely a good thing, as evidenced by its large weeknight crowds and larger weekend gatherings.
“[Pilsener Haus] took three years to fix, but good things take time.” – Co-owner Ladislav Sebestyan
All these and more make the Pilsener Haus and Biergarten a truly unique and welcome addition to the Hoboken community, both creating and filling a niche that before lay unfortunately unfilled.
Beer garden, revisited
Nestled in the lesser-populated uptown section of Hoboken at 1422 Grand St. where parking is actually available, visitors are initially greeted by the giant brushed iron and wood arched gates that separate their large outdoor dining section from the street, with “BIERGARTEN” printed simply across the top. Peeking over the wooden part of the gates are the tops of many, many beer kegs.
A walk down the outdoor corridor brings patrons through another set of iron and wooden doors reminiscent of old buttressed German hallways. Straight ahead, the first open-air hall, replete with its own bar and grill station, offers diners a large selection of wursts (sausages) and grilled meats they can purchase and bring to their tailor made-to-look-authentic benches and tables.
Take a left instead, and one finds oneself in another, larger hall with concrete floors, beer flags flowing from the vaulted, wooden-beamed ceiling, with a hip, artisan brushed-steel bar that runs the length of it. At the far end of the hall is yet another self-serve grill station. The walls are covered in vintage portraits and pictures taken from old European books as the old biergartens would boast.
The look of the place definitely evokes the traditional beer hall, but everything is brand new and created on site, by hand, by artists, Sebestyan said.
The large communal tables and benches seat between 20 and 30 people and give diners the feeling of being a part of a large family. In fact, many families love the place, Sebestyan explained. They have weekly “Sunday Family Fundays” geared toward keeping kids entertained while their parents enjoy an afternoon out.
“The kids love the ramp,” Sebestyan said of the long and winding stairway alternative leading into the large hall. “The room is large and stroller-friendly.” They also provide high chairs and food for children.
Amping up the live music
Speaking of ramps, and amps, the Pilsener Haus offers free, weekly live music in the large, spotlit space next to the ramp. Wednesdays are jazz nights, Thursdays are an eclectic mix of bands, and Sundays provide musical accompaniment to brunch. They’ve begun inviting bands for Saturdays as well. Sunday entertainment starts at noon, and nights begin at 8 p.m.
The first Wednesday of every month is an open jam fest hosted by the restaurant’s music coordinator and Weehawken musician Jennifer Lampert, alongside Julio Fernandez, the guitarist for Spyro Gyra. The event draws up to 100 musicians. Seventy percent of the performers are local, Sebestyan said, and provide a welcome alternative to the restaurant’s single television used on rare occasions.
Beer for one, beer for all
As Sebestyan explained, any biergarten worth its salt is all about the beer. Pilsener Haus does not disappoint, with 20 premium German draft beers, and around 50 European and American bottles.
While the classic and most drinkable drafts such as the Hefferweisens and the Blanche de Bruxelles are “here to stay” according to bartender extraordinaire Andrew Chambers, the beer offerings change monthly according with the seasons and the tastes of the customers.
Draft beers are offered in “flights” – or, samplings of four beers – between Monday and Thursday, depending on how busy the bar gets. Customers can choose their own, or tenders like Chambers are more than happy to offer their expert advice on just what to try.
Draft pricing is standardized at $7 for a half liter, $14 for a liter, and $18 for a pitcher. Bottles range between $6 and $10, though a select special few ring in at $25 for their higher alcohol content and/or quality.
The Blanche de Bruxelles on draft is a summer staple. “It’s perfect for warmer weather, and great for outdoor consumption,” Chambers said. It is a pale, cloudy gold Belgium beer spiced with coriander and orange, which lends it a slightly sweet and refreshing taste.
For those who prefer a less delicate beer, draft alternative Köstritzer Schwarzbier is dubbed “Germany’s Guinness” for its roasted almond and coffee mocha notes, and its dark espresso bean color.
For the non-beer drinker, Pilsener Haus has a full bar and cocktail selection, as well as a selection of wines by the bottle and the glass. As an authentic alternative to, say, the typical Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay of every bar, try the 2010 Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner at $36 for the bottle.
Green-tinged and light straw in color, the light-medium bodied Austrian wine delivers notes of melon, slate, and quince on the nose, and pleasant acidity and minerality with pleasing hints of fresh greens and lemon on the palate.
Beyond the brat
While the Pilsener Haus offers a wide selection of grilled brats, wursts, and kielbasas alongside a gigantic and popular, housemade Bavarian soft pretzel, renowned Chef Thomas Ferlesch infuses his authentic Austro-Hungarian repertoire of appetizers, entrees, and desserts with what most definitely qualifies as four-star flair.
This is not your grandmother’s wiener schnitzel. This is the wiener schnitzel of every foodie’s wildest dreams.
Ferlesch was a chef in Vienna, Austria for 33 years before he came to contend in what is arguably one of the most competitive cuisine scenes on the planet: New York City. His resume is a monument to itself with the four-star Vienna ‘79 at the top, and an eleven-year tenure as executive chef of the upper west side’s Café des Artistes to back it up.
There is indeed green stuff here, atypical of many establishments that offer a similar cuisine. The “Haus salad” serves a large mound of fresh, spicy watercress alongside heaps of marinated lentils, beets, cucumbers, and red cabbage for $6. For those with a fondness for shellfish, Chambers extolled the virtues of the gigantic bowl of steamed Bier mussels. Around 40 mussels come bathed in a sofrito-flavored garlic, wine, and beer broth nicely spiced with chipotle for $11.
Entrees include organic, free-range chicken with arugula salad for $15, a 12 ounce strip steak with parsley potatoes for $24, and a twist on a sauerbraten served with pretzel dumplings for $17.
The Hungarian beef Goulash comes highly recommended. Simple, melt-in-your-mouth hunks of beef come perched atop a buttery pile of spätzle – small, roundish German egg noodle dumplings – and two house-made pickles that cleanse the palate for $15.
Another classic is Ferlesch’s take on braised pork cheeks. His are smokey and melty with hints of caraway and marjoram and soaked in the Haus pilsner. They come with three light and airy potato and pretzel dumplings and a generous side of tangy, refreshing sauerkraut, also for $15.
For a sweet ending to a sweet meal, Ferlesch suggests the sache torte, homemade of course, which is a traditional Austrian chocolate cake laced with apricot preserves. “It’s a must,” he said.
Hours of operation
Pilsener Haus and Biergarten is located at 1422 Grand St. and is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon until 2 a.m. For more information, call (201) 683-5465, or visit their website at www.pilsenerhaus.com.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org