For some reason, the Little Rock metropolitan area has been unable to support a German restaurant.
Until the advent of The Pantry in west Little Rock and its younger Hillcrest sibling, The Pantry Crest, a proper schnitzel or even a decent bratwurst was a dream awaiting consummation. And actually, those establishments' owner is Czech, not German, and the menu is more Mittel-European (defined as encompassing the borders of the Habsburg Empire, centered on Vienna) than German, per se.
Address: 311 E. Capitol Ave., Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-“at least” 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Cuisine: German biergarten
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
There have been attempts. A place in the Galleria on Rodney Parham Road didn't last long enough either for us to file a review or even to now remember its name. And, of course, there's Mr. Dunderbak's, which popped in and out of North Little Rock's McCain Mall, though that wasn't exactly a full-service German restaurant. (They did serve good brats.) There's also the relatively new Wunderbus, a Conway-based food truck that occasionally shows up at Little Rock sites.
Otherwise, schnitzel-seekers have had to travel: to Hot Springs' Steinhaus Keller, which for years had been Hot Springs Brau Haus, and at one time (but no longer) the Mittel-European Bohemia; in Altus, Wiederkehr's Weinkeller Restaurant, the excellent restaurant at Wiederkehr Wine Cellars; and Emmy's German Restaurant in Fort Smith.
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Photos by Eric Harrison and Brandon Riddle
Photos by Eric Harrison and Brandon Riddle
Now comes Fassler Hall on downtown's East Capitol Avenue, an offshoot of an Oklahoma City outfit that also owns and operates the next-door Dust Bowl bowling alley and bar.
Is this, finally, the German restaurant we've been waiting for? Well, despite some enjoyable experiences there, we're still waiting.
To begin with, Fassler Hall is a biergarten, which in Germany is an outside area -- and Fassler Hall does have an enormous patio -- that primarily serves beer, typically at communal tables, with food as secondary component. And that's mostly sausages and light fare.
Fassler Hall's indoor dining area is also enormous. Seat yourselves at massive tables with built-on benches. (Getting on and off -- or is it in and out? -- of those benches may, if you're not so spry, be a bit of a challenge.)
A single bar, more than 80 feet long, stretches from near the front entrance to the patio door, with a very impressive pipe-and-tap system that allows bartenders to draw a dozen and a half draft brews from tanks and kegs in a temperature-controlled space in the back. (Those include several German lagers, a Hefeweizen and a grapefruit radler, plus a half-dozen or so local craft products.)
An international panoply of more than two dozen others is available in bottles and cans, including a number of beers that have not previously appeared in this market. And there are bottles and bottles of booze stretched along the long wall. No German wines, as far as we can tell, alas, but you can get Oregon pinot noir, pinot gris and rose -- in cans.
There's limited service on the patio -- if you want something, use the walk-up window that opens into the bar.
What will strike the average customer immediately is that the place is chain-noisy, even at lunch, when the volume from the digital jukebox, pounding through at least eight speakers, is somewhat diminished. In the evenings, when the place is packed, conversation with friends just a foot or two away was difficult, and we had an even harder time communicating with the staff. (Better waiters leaned ears in to make sure they heard orders and, if necessary, gripes.) There's also an indication that someday perhaps they'll have entertainment (there's a line on the check to tip a band). And the lighting, especially at night, is so dim it's difficult to see, much less photograph-with-cellphone, the food on the plates.
Fassler Hall does have a couple of advantages if you work and/or live downtown: It's relatively inexpensive, it's a nice place to hang out (if you don't mind the sound level), it's close (only a couple of blocks from our office) and it's open late into the lunch cycle. (That's a good option, by the way, if you want to go when it's less crowded and less noisy.)
Sausages take up fully half the menu. Fassler Hall offers nine made-in-house varieties, including the Frankfurter ($6 and $7), sold two ways -- Chicago-style and Chili-Cheese -- and the "Falafel Dog" ($7), not a dog at all but three balls of falafel served on pita with Romaine, feta, tzatziki and black olives. That and the Haus Salad ($7) are the only vegetarian options.
To try the maximum number of varieties in the easiest and most compact fashion, we ordered two Sausage Samplers ($13) -- three sausages per, no buns, with sides of kraut and German mustard. Here's our ranking:
• Italian, coarse-ground and spicy. On a bun ($7.50), it's topped with grilled red bell pepper and onions and parmesan cheese.
• Hunter ($7 on a bun), a coarse-ground compilation of smoked venison, buffalo and pork.
• Lamb, also fairly coarsely ground and nicely spiced; on pita ($7.50), served with Romaine, feta and tzatziki.
• Habanero Chicken ($6 on a bun). This was Intrepid Companion's top choice, and probably the best choice if you like raw heat, but we thought it lacked flavor and texture dimensions.
• Bratwurst. The menu description sounded pretty good -- "pork, beef and spices cooked in Spaten Optimator," one of the beers Fassler Hall has on tap. But it was pretty dull, and what made the one we got on a bun ($6) worthwhile wasn't the brat but the house kraut, which has a pretty good kick, and the house brown mustard, which comes with just about everything. (And if there isn't enough, it's also in squeeze bottles on your table.) There's also a Cheddarwurst ($6.50), made with "chunks of aged Cheddar."
• Falafel Dog. This is pretty good, but if we're angling for falafel, this isn't the place we'd seek it out.
For 50 cents extra you can add (to a sausage that doesn't already have it) kraut, shredded Cheddar, ranch, grilled onions, feta cheese, black olives or pickled jalapenos. For an extra buck, you can add bacon, smoked Gouda, chili or a fried egg.
There are three entrees. We recommend the Schnitzel ($14), a large pork cutlet topped with a very savory "triple mushroom sauce."
Entrees come with two sides. We investigated the sweet potato spaetzle ($5 a la carte), pasta-like curls that had a nice sweet potato flavor and a surprising level of spice but which were kind of squishy, and the skin-on Duck Fat Fries ($6 a la carte as a side or an appetizer; order 'em with a sausage or sandwich at lunch and they're free). They're not, as we thought, made of, but fried in, duck fat, which gives them a nice rich taste and a firm crispness. (If that sounds weird, remember that before McDonald's gave a hoot about "eating healthy," it cooked its fries in beef tallow, and everybody thought they were the best fast-food fries ever.) We didn't really need ketchup, but after a little search we found it hiding in the table-top vessel that also contained the blue-napkined fork-and-knife setups.
The kitchen was out of the rotisserie-style Bierstube Chicken ($12 half bird, $18 whole bird), so we defaulted to the pretty good Pork Shank ($18), an awe-inspiring huge leg bone, slow-roasted and honey-braised with a crispy skin and rich and plentiful meat, lightly topped with a gravy that might have had some wine in it. This time we "sided with" the German potato salad ($5 a la carte), nicely chunky but without much flavor, and the Brussels sprouts ($5), roasted and served -- surprise! -- cold, in a sort of slightly vinegary dressing and topped with coarse-grated parmesan. We enjoyed it more than many other things we tried.
That particularly includes the disappointing appetizer pretzels ($6), which compared favorably only to the ones you can buy frozen at the supermarket. We recommend spending $1 for a side of the rich smoked Gouda cheese sauce and using the pretzels as a vehicle to get that to your mouth.
Fassler Hall pours drafts by the half-liter and the liter. Moderate beer drinkers we, a half-liter was plenty to accompany a meal, and we can recommend two amber German or at least German-sounding brews: the Spaten Oktoberfest ($5.5, $11) and the Marshall Dunkel Lager ($5, $10). Both came out in the vicinity of 54 degrees (supposedly room temperature, we're told, in Munich).
Something for the radar: Fassler Hall's 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday brunch, which offers a variety of breakfast tacos, biscuits sandwiches and waffles.
Despite reports from friends and colleagues about long waits for food and beer (including a tale of one recent night when the bar was out of practically everything), service was generally pretty good. On both our dinner visits, however, we had to wait as much as eight minutes before our waiter made it to our table, and on one of those visits our food arrived before our beer did.
Sausage Samplers include three sausages with sauerkraut and mustard (no buns). Among those we tried were (from left) Habanero Chicken, Italian and Bratwurst.
Weekend on 03/29/2018
Print Headline: Fassler Hall: From better to wurst