Bierhaus Oakland Is Suds, Starches, and Sausages
The Temescal outpost has the kind of menu that invites patrons to dine indulgently.
Clockwise from top: Flammkuchen, pretzel, a wurst plate, and potato pancakes at Bierhaus Oakland.
Photos by Lance Yamamoto
A warm pretzel and a half-liter of pilsner. Schnitzel and a mug of schwarzbier. A bratwurst and a frosty hefeweizen. Bierhaus — one of the recent additions to the East Bay’s swarm of taprooms, beer gardens, and brew pubs — does little to dispel the dominant myth of German cuisine: that it’s all about suds and the starchy and meaty dishes that love them. Indeed, without “elevating” the fare with modernist techniques and left-field fusions, or dressing itself up in tchotchke-laden Teutonic trappings, Bierhaus revels in simplicity and celebrates the pleasure of pairing fried foods and juicy sausages with cold, frothy weissbiers and dopplebocks.
Before he opened Bierhaus in the rapidly expanding Temescal district last November, owner Mike Finley planned it as a spinoff of his 4-year-old Mountain View location. But after losing his original space in a rent dispute, he turned his attention to getting the Oakland venture up and running on the ground floor of a new, five-story multiuse building on 40th Street (and to planning a Walnut Creek outpost, coming in September). For Bierhaus Oakland, Finley created a strip of patio seating (too tight to pass as a beer garden) under awnings and heat lamps along the sidewalk. To the modern-industrial interior (concrete floor, black ceiling with exposed pipes), he added minimal decorative touches: potted plants, a neon “Bierhaus” sign glowing red above the kitchen pass-through, and stenciled images of the pet-friendly restaurant’s mascot, Stout, Finley’s Bernese mountain dog. A series of high, darkly stained, plank-top communal tables, angled and lined up through the long, narrow room like parked cars, a scattering of low-tops seating two to four, and a bar with tall chairs and shelves stocked with glass beer vessels, communicate a modest beer-hall vibe. Although TV screens will be installed this summer, patrons can make their own fun by playing tabletop games like Connect and forming teams for trivia contests on Wednesday nights. Album-oriented rock (Traveling Wilburys, David Bowie, Smiths, Curtis Mayfield) plays at moderate level in the background.
The food is similarly straightforward and classic. Across two midweek evening visits and one weekday lunch, Robin and I sampled from the five main menu sections — starters, salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, and plates — and tried five of the 18 German, Belgian, American, and Icelandic beers. Two hard ciders and four wines were available, as well. After we shared a warm, chewy soft pretzel, spreading it with sweet/hot German mustard ($4), and a small complementary bowl of spiced nuts and pretzel sticks, Robin made dinner of the kasespaetzle starter (al dente curly noodles with Gruyere, white cheddar, caramelized onion, and cracked pepper, $7), and the horseradish beet salad (roasted baby beets, wild arugula, goat cheese, toasted almonds, creamy horseradish dressing, $11). The salad’s garden-fresh brightness and tangy zing nicely countered the satisfying heaviness of the “German mac and cheese.” My jagerschnitzel plate ($16) nodded to heart health with a large jumble of lightly dressed field greens, but the point of the platter was the breaded and fried cutlet — I chose pork over chicken — bedded on plain spaetzle (a texture more than a flavor) and topped with rich mushroom gravy. The slight sweetness of the schnitzel’s well-browned batter crust reminded me, pleasantly, of a cake donut.
Robin liked the light-bodied crispness her Veltins pilsener ($7) enough to order it again at our second dinner a week later. Of the three beers in the “Darker” flight ($9) — one of five flights presented in squat goblets suspended in a wire caddy — I singled out the Kostritzer schwarzbier, deeply hued but not too dense, from the accompanying Dinkelacker marzen and Weltenburger dopplebock, and ordered a half liter ($7) upon our return. Because we arrived during happy hour (1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., and 9 p.m. to close, daily), our beers were discounted $1.
Sitting outside as the sun set on a pleasantly warm evening, we hit the sweet spot of the Bierhaus food menu — the sausages. Finley buys them, based on his own recipe specifications, from Continental Gourmet Sausage Company in Glendale. Robin, the woman with hyper-acute mystery-meat radar, was very happy with her traditional bratwurst, served on a soft, griddled bun with mustard and sauerkraut, and a shareable pile of herbed Belgian fries ($10) that stayed crisp until we finished them. The wurst sandwiches can be ordered with a beer cheese sauce ($12) or the house-made curry ketchup ($11). We asked for a side of the curry sauce, and it made for excellent dipping.
Ordering a wurst plate ($15), I chose two sausages to go with a scoop of vinegary Austrian potato salad, a mound of sauerkraut, and a copious serving of grilled onions and red and green bell peppers that retained their crunch. As much as I love bockwurst and was tempted by the cheddar/jalapeno sausage, I ordered the less familiar (to me) kasekrainer (smoky and filled with chunks of cheese) and nuerenberg (coarsely ground pork) bratwurst. Perfectly grilled, each yielded unique herbal and spicy scents and flavors.
The lunch menu is slightly abbreviated — fewer starters and flatbreads, and no large plates of wurst, schnitzel, flatiron steak, or German meat and cheese board. On a solo visit, I sipped a Belgian Bavik pilsner ($6) as I forked into three crispy potato pancakes ($7) garnished with small dabs of applesauce and crème fraiche and a sprinkling of chives. They would have benefited from another moment of draining after leaving the fryer. I ate three pieces of the large oval Flammkuchen ($13), a thin, blistered crust pizza-like flatbread topped with smoked pork belly (indistinguishable from well done bacon), crème fraiche, Gruyere, caramelized onions, and scallions. I took the remaining five pieces home; they traveled well.
Carnivores are privileged at Bierhaus with sausages, schnitzel, steak, a fried chicken sandwich, a 1/3-pound burger, chicken wings, and barbecue shrimp, but vegetarians can fill up on buttered spaetzle, green goddess or Caesar salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, and mushroom or mozzarella-tomato flatbreads. There’s even a vegan bratwurst. You might forego the sweet fry bread or chocolate chunk cookie for dessert because it’s likely your server will bring a paper bag bearing three complementary, soft and gingery pfeffernüüsse cookies. Our servers, who used handheld credit card readers at the table, were uniformly friendly, attentive, and able to make informed beer and sausage recommendations.
To a transitioning neighborhood that includes Home Room, Hog’s Apothecary, Clove and Hoof, Teni East Kitchen, Copper Spoon, True Burger, Ohgane, Monster Pho, and Mama’s Royal Café (with Brenda’s French Soul Food on the way), Bierhaus offers a casual ambience in which to explore new brews and either mind your diet or, more likely, dine indulgently.
German. 360 40th St., Oakland, 510-679-2003. Serves lunch Tue.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.,“all day dining” Tue.-Thu. 3 p.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 3 p.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Bierha.us Credit cards accepted, wheelchair accessible, $-$$$