Of all the ethnic holidays, I think I like Oktoberfest the best. It brings with it hints of cooler weather, fall colors, and one of my favorite cuisines – German food. However, fellow kayaker and chef Darren M. recently pointed out that authentic Oktoberfest has a very specific date range – two weeks running from late September through the first week of October. Any restaurants or festivals advertising Oktoberfest this late in the year (such as Walhalla this weekend, but I guess a fake Norse town can have a fake Bavarian celebration any time it wants) is doing so purely for advertising promotion. I guess it’s not that different from seeing Halloween ads all October, or promoting Christmas just as soon as the after school sales end. That being said, when my friend Keith Dover proposed heading up to Haus Heidelberg in Hendersonville to take advantage of their Oktoberfest specials, I jumped at the chance, cultural authenticity be damned.
I have long complained about the dearth of German restaurants in the area, especially with BMW and all the other German industry in town. But, I guess that number is increasing. Joining Haus Edelweiss and Schwaben Haus are Hans und Franz and The Bavarian Pretzel Factory. Even Strossner’s Bakery is now on the list of places offering German food. German restaurants seem to be more prevalent on up in the mountains, I guess hearkening back to the Alpine nature of Bavaria. Both The Black Forest in Ardin and Haus Heidelberg have been long-time staples of German food in our region. However, I don’t get up that way often enough to take advantage of them. This was the first time I’d been to Haus Heidelberg in ages.
The drive up early Wednesday evening was spectacular. The October sky was brilliantly lit with the setting sun, and the leaves are just shy of being at peak. Keith and I drove on up through Flat Rock, enjoying the ride.
As mentioned, Haus Heidelberg has been in Hendersonville for a LONG time. I remember stopping by here after hiking trips up in Pisgah Forest before I got married. However, I hadn’t been by since then. Apparently the original closed, and in 1994 it was reopened by the current owner, Helge Gresser. It’s been open in its current version since then, for 18 years.
Haus Heidelberg is a small place located near the intersection of Highway 225 and Highway 176 just south of downtown Hendersonville. There is an outdoor seating area. The interior is cozy, with several booths and tables. The decor looks like it hasn’t changed since the first version of the place was open in the 1970’s – Formica tables, and simple furniture. There are wooden surfaces everywhere and touches of Bavaria. The requisite mural of Neuschwanstein Castle adorns one wall, and there is a small deli for take-out items.
Oddly enough, there were gnomes hanging from every HVAC air intake vent…
For a Wednesday night, there were quite a few diners. There seemed to be a mix of ages. Keith is a regular from when he worked in the area, and still visits regularly, so he knew several of the staff. He and I were seated in a remote corner booth they referred to as the “Mafia Corner.”
The menu features what we Americans think of as “German food” – Bavarian cuisine heavy on sausages, kraut, and schnitzels. There are several appetizers, including some traditional soups and salads. These run from $5 to about $9.
The menu includes the widest selection of sausage platters I’ve seen in the area, including homemade bratwurst, knackwurst, kielbasa, bockwurst, bauenwurst, and weisswurst. These include two links with two sides for $9.50 to about $11 depending on the sausage. Sides include sauerkraut, spatlze, red cabbage, potato salad, and roasted potatoes. Sides are suggested for each platter, but these can be substituted.
For larger appetites there are several schnitzel platters and sampler platters. These start at about $15 and run all the way up to $37 for a sampler platter for 2. There is also a selection of deli sandwiches for various prices, most under $10.
There was also an insert in our menu for specials. These included an Oktoberfest platter at $18 for more food that one could comfortable eat, and several dessert and sandwich options.
Keith and I both started with the house salad. This consisted of green beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers over a bed of lettuce. It was drenched in the house dressing – a sour cream-based concoction with lots of spices. It was quite good, with a bit of tangyness from the dressing.
German food needs a good German beer. I had a Warsteiner – just one 12 ounce since I had to drive on mountain roads.
For the main course I ordered my standard – weisswurst with sauerkraut and potato salad. Unfortunately, they were out of sweet mustard, but were able to find an acceptable spicy mustard substitute. The sausage was excellent. I actually prefer the lighter sausages to the heavier brats in a meal like this. Both the kraut and the potatoes had a vinegar tang to them that went with the sausages quite nicely. The sweet mustard would have been a nice complement, but the spicy mustard wasn’t bad.
Keith got the knockwurst, roasted potatoes, and red cabbage for his meal.
I didn’t try his, but the results were very similar…
The flavors were not quite as good as Haus Edleweiss or Black Forest, but were pretty darn close. By this time we were both stuffed, but I still wanted to try dessert. I ordered a slice of the apple strudel to go. It looked more like a marbled steak than a dessert wrapped up the way it was. Still it was great when I finally got around to it.
Service was quick and efficient. We lacked for nothing during the meal. As a regular, Keith knew the waiter, Kelly, so there was some banter, but all was pleasant and good-natured.
Haus Heidelberg provides great German food at reasonable prices. It’s probably a bit out of the way for me to visit regularly, but if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth stopping in – a nice post-Oktoberfest get away.