Review: Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh

Last night, a friend invited me out to give Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh a try. For those of you that have been hiding under a rock, the Hofbräuhaus just opened up on the South Side a few weeks ago. As a larger unit, Hofbräu has been a brewing powerhouse in Munich since 1589 when the Duke of Bavaria was trying to satisfy the demanding tastes of his people. Not until 2003 did they first appear in the US with a beer hall in Newport, Kentucky–just outside of Cincinati. There are a few others around the states, but I still don’t think there are enough of them to consider the place “overdone” (yet). That having been said, their recent expansions left a feeling somewhat reminiscent of The Cheesecake Factory, when they first started popping up–well, everywhere–back in the early 2000s. There’s actually a fairly detailed history available from the primary Hofbräu site if you want to know more.hofbrau-sign

Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh
★★★☆☆ / ($$)
3201 S Water St
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
(412) 224-2328

Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh on Urbanspoon

Enough history: how was it? I can’t say I come down on the etremely positive side. The menu had a number of traditional German entrees, plus plenty of appetizers suitable for drinking. My meal was flavorful, but not prepared very well. I also happened to be attending with some German exchange students–one of whom was thrilled with her meal, the other: not so much. The beer was a similar story: commendable for ticking to a classic style but not in any way exceptional. Overall, If I had to give Hofbräu a star rating, I’d say 2.5 out of 5 (though it pains me to say it).

Only four beers? There are currently only four beers available: all Hofbräu brews, with the promise of a rotating selection of seasonal brews. The whole restaurant is lined with conical fermenters, and I’m told those are functional. So, one would have to believe that over time the beer selection will expand. There are 8 different taps at each bar station, so there’s some room to grow. I certainly hope that proves to be the case.

Solid session beers. I hate to give Hofbräu any trouble over their beer. I do enjoy their bottled lager, and I am a strong supporter of any brewery that makes a point of sticking to a very traditional style. Hofbräu does just that: they brew four standard beers:

Import? Why not just brew locally? The story goes that Hofbräu was originaly created as a cheaper alternative to importing the castle’s preferred beer from Einbeck in Lower Saxony. For those of  you not up to speed on German geography, Einbeck is in north central Germany; Munich is in the far southern region. Einbeck is the home of the bock style–a strong lager, and that is the basis for the Hofbräu Premium Lager that served as my second beer of the night. Think Yuengling, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where this beer sits. It’s definitely very drinkable, with a nice lager flavor and more body than you would find in a Pilsner. Overall, it was a solid session beer, which is essential given the quantity of beer Hofbräu likes to throw at you (up to a liter at a time).

Look ma, no salad. For some time now, I’ve been fascinated by sauerbraten–a dish I’ve never made for myself but would love an opportunity (hint). The trademark of this dish is it’s strong, vinegar flavor coupled with a tough cut of meat that has been marianted and braised to the point of being tender. There should also be some sweetness to balance the tang. My dish at Hofbräu was paired with red cabbage sauerkraut and fairly plan mashed potatoes. The sauerkraut was the recipient of much of the sweetness associated with the Sauerbraten.

Tough meat. The brisket component of my Sauerbraten was tough. I hate to say that, because it’s a huge cliche and I’m not even really into meat. It just was. The beef was clearly not prepared in the traditional way (over the course of hours). Rather than a brisket transformed by time and attention into something tender and flavor-packed, the brisket I received was in 0.25″ dry slices that were literally difficult to chew. It was topped with the type of tangy sauce that you might expect with sauerbraten, but not enough of it to help me cope with the toughness of the meat. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, though. After all, this location just opened a few weeks back.

The culinary bright side. One of the German natives in my group was excited to give Hofbräu’s schweinshaxen a try. The result was reported to be much better than my sauerbraten. I must say, the presentation was  very impressive. Schweinshaxen is a ham hock, roasted with a crisp exterior shell. The skin actually reminded me of a golden turkey coming out of the oven. My dining companions seemed to love it: they tore it apart and ate every last piece they could scrape fromt the bone. Clearly the food at Hofbräu isn’t all that bad (though definitely outside of the genre I’m aiming for).

The (noisy) atmosphere. Hofbräuhaus is noisy. I was there on a Thursday night to find live music–singing the Hofbräu song and other drinking favorites (think, “eins, zwei, g’suchen.”). That much would have been fine–and even festive. Then add to that the roar of the imbibing crowd, and the result is a noisy night out. I wasn’t able to carry on much of a conversation at all. That’s not a gripe, though. I think that’s the goal. It was just beyond the level I expected to hear.

My final take? Hofbräu is a drinking establishment more than anything else. Go there with your friends and enjoy a rauchaus night out–just don’t go there with high hopes for fine cuisine and a vast array of drinking options. If you’re looking for some German food, just go to Max’s. They have a more interesting beer list to boot.

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25 Responses to “Review: Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh”

  1. mike Says:
    April 7th, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Wow. I’ve received some side-channel feedback on this one (i.e., friends calling me out while I was at a beer tasting event last night). Apparently, there are some people out there that think my review was undeservingly critical.

    Some comments I’ve received…
    – “Spot on.” (in response to my, “what did you think of the beer.”)
    – “I can’t say I was there to try the food.”

    In my defense, I’m not going to post a hugely positive review based on an experience I perceived to be bad. At the same time, I’ve never actually had sauerbraten before. My take on what the dish should be is based entirely on the recipes I’ve read.

    I definitely think I need to go back and give them another try. Who knows, maybe I was just in a bad mood.

  2. Troy Says:
    April 11th, 2009 at 6:30 am

    If you see my review on Urbanspoon (LINK EMBEDDED ABOVE), I think we can agree that we were both disappointed but willing to give it another try. My Saurbraten was also tough.

    As for the beer . . . I had a sampler (4 glasses) and a litre of Weissen (wheat) and I didn’t even catch a slight buzz, so the beer to me needs work. I am not a big drinker either, but I am a fan of local and craft brewed beer, so maybe my tolerance is different than most.

    I didn’t think your review was critical enough . . . THANKS!!

  3. mike Says:
    April 13th, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Hey Troy. You didn’t think my review was critical enough? Regarding the food or the beer? Or both?

    I also think I’m a little confused by your beer comment. I don’t think there’s any particular correlation between quality and percent alcohol. In fact, the particular styles that Hofbräuhaus brews are all targeting session beers (i.e., less than 5% ABV). After all, it would be disastrous for them to be selling 8% beer by the liter.

    That said, I’m planning to head back with the Pittsburgh Beer Meetup in another week, so we’ll see what I think of the beer for my second attempt. If they let me down twice, then you can definitely expect a more critical follow-up.

  4. Joseph Smith Says:
    May 1st, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    I am writing this review to tell you that you should not eat or drink at Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh. The waitstaff is extremely discourteous, and the security was downright criminal.

    My party was at the restaurant to celebrate a project ending, and we had planned to stay for an entire afternoon and evening. The entire group was well-behaved and respectful for the entire time. Around 6pm, the waitstaff (our waitress was named Jojo) started refusing to serve us beer. Some of our party had just arrived minutes ago, and they were not allowed to order!

    After being “cut off” from being served, our group decided to get the bill. The bill was incorrectly calculated and was significantly more than we had ordered. Given no recourse, we paid the entire bill and left.

    While leaving the restaurant, one of our party accidentally knocked a glass off the table and broke it. While we were leaving, a security guard physically attempted to restrain a member of our party and drag him back into the restaurant. The security guard had also informed Southside Works security and the pittsburgh police (for an accidentally broken glass!!!).

    Unfortunately, the manager was forced to come out and was also rude and discourteous to our party. After paying more than a $250 bill, I would have expected the manager to at least show some respect for customer service. Finally, the situation was resolved, and we were allowed to go home.

    In short, do not go to Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh. Tell your friends that they are a rude and downright criminal establishment. We should not allow our community to be populated with such elitists.

  5. Caroline Says:
    May 7th, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Myself & 3 friends were at the restaurant tonight. The food was very good. The service was excellent. We did sit outside so the noise was inside. I can see you would not want to sit in there, if you wanted to talk. But all in all, it was a good experience. Oh–the beer sample was very good !!

  6. Howard Rattler Says:
    May 8th, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Mr. Joseph Smith probably had far too much to drink and didn’t realize that his behavior was probably out of control. I have been to the hofbrauhaus several times and i’ve seen many people drink to excess and don’t seem to notice the effects on their behavior i.e. being loud and obnoxious, breaking the glasses, etc. The hofbrau is a great place to have a good dinner and some great beer and i’ve always enjoyed every minute i have spent there. My friends and I have never had a problem with the waitstaff or management either. I love it there. I also know how to control my alcohol consumption, unlike that Mr. Smith

  7. mike Says:
    May 8th, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    …which is the inevitable consequence of pushing beer 1 liter at a time.

    I suspect that Hofbräu is actually aiming to be that way, and I’m not quite sure what they’re going for. I would really like to see quality beer presented with respect. Hofbräu has some quality going for it, but they seem bent on pulling in what I’ll call the “roudy crowd of excess.” Sooner or later, that crowd is going to realize that even 1 liter in, they can’t distinguish between a good $6 pint and whatever is cheapest at the bar down the street. It’s just not worth it if you can’t appreciate it.

    That is the problem I see with Hofbräuhaus. I’d love to see them embrace a lower key crowd (that would probably pay more anyway). Am I way off on that one?

  8. Anon Says:
    May 10th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    First of all, if you are going to go to all the trouble of writing a review on an establishment…shouldn’t you make sure that you spell its name correctly and consistently throughout the article?

    Regarding the food reviews, I agree it can be hit or miss. I have been to Hofbräu many times and have sampled the majority of the entrees/appetizers and some days I have been blown away, while others I just think “eh…it’s alright.”

    I can certainly agree with Howard in regard to Mr. Smith’s statement: Smith and the rest of his party were probably unaware of how much alcohol they actually consumed. In no way would Hofbräu just turn people away and refuse to serve them. They most likely were getting a bit rowdy and needed to be cut off, and when they were leaving someone stumbled and broke a stein. Things happen, and we all realize this. But, from my understanding from talking to the staff there, if someone breaks a stein under ANY circumstances, they get the boot.

    The security and management were probably just doing the best they could to maintain an establishment that can hold over 1,000 people and I commend them for doing so.

  9. mike Says:
    May 10th, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Okay, point taken on the spelling. I just went back and fixed all the errors highlighted by a few quick searches. You try and type option-u-a-u that many times in a single review and avoid surrounding errors. :P

    In any case, perhaps I ought to go back a few more times and try a few more entrees to really develop a full-formed opinion. Part of the problem is that I’m a salad nut (and beer, go figure). Hofbräu really isn’t a salad destination, and I’d feel just a little bad trying to order a salad and base any opinions on that.

    One more note: I did already go back once more just to give the beer a more thorough look. I had a somewhat higher opinion of the place after that visit.

    Since you’ve eaten so much off the menu, do you have any particular recommendations?

  10. Anon Says:
    May 12th, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I would agree with you, if you are a self-proclaimed “salad nut”, HB isn’t really the place for you! Haha

    But if I would have to make a couple suggestions…

    I highly recommend the Heidelberger Raum Spaetzle. Absolutely delicious, probably my favorite item off of the entire menu.

    Another great suggestion: the Jaeger Schnitzel. I am a huge schnitzel fan and I find this to be the best of HB’s schnitzel dishes.

    Have you tried any of the apps?! Fried zucchini: to die for! And the sauerkraut balls…I know, I know. Work with me here. You need to try them if you haven’t yet. They are amazing, I promise you.

    ALSO their Maibock has been on tap for about two weeks now…have you tried it? Delish!

  11. mike Says:
    May 13th, 2009 at 5:01 am

    All good to know. Thank you! I’ll keep that in mind if I go back.

  12. ---Guy Says:
    June 14th, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Eins, zwei, g’suchen (??????)

    Not even close…

  13. mike Says:
    June 14th, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    But yet you don’t help me out with the actually cheer!?

  14. Heinrich Schultzz Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Eins, Zwei, g’suffa! Pronounced gzoofa.

    The Mad Bavarian is an incredible performer with an outstanding voice and wide repetoir! The beer is very good. The food seems to be getting better. The sauerbraten is now tender and tastes like it should. The pretzels are wunderbar! The waitstaff is polite and the managers seem to try hard to please. It was a lot of fun. Great place for birthdays and celebrations. Well known sports figures and celebrities like to hang there. Give it a try. Great biergarten.

  15. mike Says:
    July 16th, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Thanks Heinrich! I’ve always wanted to figure out what that toast actually looked like in writing.

    Based on what you say, it sounds like I owe Hofbräu another try.

  16. Diane Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve been to the original Hofbraeuhaus in Germany multiple times, and my comment concerns your comments on the beer. Expecting to have multiple options…more beers added in the future…doesn’t make it like the Hofbraeuhaus in Germany. There, your choice is dunkles Bier (dark) or helles Bier (light). They don’t give you options on the beer there either. What you do, is go to multiple beer halls if you want to try other beers.

    I was at Pittsburgh Hofbraeuhaus once. I plan to go back. I think all restaurants need time to “get it all right in time” Obviously, they HAD to add some other menu items in addition to the German ones to attract a larger number of people.

    My only complaint? The potato pancakes…might want to work on that recipe to make them crisper and thinner…less filler, more shredded potatoes. Other than that, we had a nice time!

  17. Paul Gaines Says:
    August 12th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    The Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh is a really fun and great place to eat and party. As in ANY case, NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU DRINK, YOU MUST BE RESPONSIBLE, MATURE and NEVER A THREAT TO YOURSELF OR OTHERS. ALL bars and restaurants have policies and rules that they must enforce to ensure the overall safety of their customers and employees. Please don’t underappreciate the security who do a great job, the waitstaff who hardly have time to drink a full cup of water or the management who supervise all of them and accomadate their guest. The entertainers do an excellent job at keeping the patrons engaged and the atmospere festive. There are four choices of seating, so you can enjoy four levels of mingling. Give the HBH Pittsburgh a try and experience this cool new place a chance.

  18. Michael Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Hi folks,
    for me as a german engineer living here in Pittsburgh it was just fun to go one night at the Hofbräuhaus to see american people party in this atmosphere.
    Well, for me it was way to loud. The acoustic inside is like an old railway station waiting hall. The people get what they expect, a party halfway in the bavarian style.
    I enjoyed the beer which was really good not doubt about that.
    I was dissapointed about the food. I had the original Schweinshaxn. The Haxn itself was not to bad, very crispy skin ( I love that). But it was not at all well flavoured. Salt and pepper where missing.
    The crown on the dissapointment was the dumpling we call Semmelknödel.
    This was obviously made to throw windows in…….. Absolutely painful hard
    Nothing of the great flavour I had in mind even touched the original bavarian food.

    I agree that the Hofbräuhaus is a try worth if you wanna party with friends. If you want great original german food better go grocery shopping and invite me to your kitchen to do it

  19. mike Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Thank you, Michael. I’m glad to see someone out there agrees with me on the low quality of food over at Hofbräuhaus. Far better German food can be found at Michael’s house. In fact, I’m several generations removed from my German heritage and could probably cook up something far better than what you’ll get at Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh.

  20. John Says:
    September 11th, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I just read two reviews about Haufbrauhaus on RatingSearch.com. I wrote my review about it here: http://ratingsearch.com/business/detail.php?id=14982

    I think Haufbrauhaus is a wonderful addition to Pittsburgh, but I hate the crowds on the weekend.

  21. Rick Says:
    September 18th, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I have been to the Hofbrau in Munich and am German background. I can honestly say that the Hofbrau in Pittsburgh is every bit as good as Munich. I had to try their Schweinshaxe and it was great. My wife had the Schweinsbraten, also very good. And for dessert we tried their strudel. no complaints. As far as the beer goes, they’ve got that down pat. If you can’t handle the liter steins order a small size.
    The only negative was the dumplings. the were a bit dry but nothing that an extra order of gravy looked after.
    As far as the wait staff goes they were friendly, courteous and efficient.
    The next time I’m back in Pittsburgh it will be my destination for a good time.

  22. lena Says:
    September 20th, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Anyone who has eaten German Food in Germany will be dissapointed. Not even close to the real thiing. Kind of like mall food only worse. As for the beer, I had the lite beer and it was no better than any American Lite beer. I guess if you want entertainment and a night out,OK but don’t order the food!

  23. Elizabeth Says:
    October 25th, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I was very disappointed with this place, and thought you could have been even more critical. And I totally agree if you want good German food, head over to Max’s. I had a lot of issues with the place. The food was the biggest, but I also hated all the crowds of rowdy drunk people.

  24. Hans Says:
    October 31st, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Just a friendly point of fact. The picture used for this article is from the Hofbrau Beer Garden in Panama City Beach.

  25. Tom Denk Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 12:21 am

    The Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh has wonder ful beer, good food and remarkable performers such as the Mad Bavarian. I have been a fan of the Mad Bavarian for 25 years. His ability as a regular performer at the Hofbrauhaus is unsurpassed as probably one of the best yodelers in the world. He makes you feel welcome and happy to be there. I have heard nothing but praise for the Hofbrauhau Pittsburgh and couldn’t agree more. The sauerbraten has improved so much as have other menu items and fun to eat foods.
    But the best part is the beer. Best beer in the world! Try week nights as the weekends with the exception of Sunday are absolute madness with long waiting lines.
    Ein Prosit !

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