Restaurants inside hotels have at least a couple serious obstacles to overcome.
First, visibility. If the customers can see it, they will come; if not, they won't. A lack of visibility isn't unsurmountable if the restaurant advertises its presence and delivers a sizable dining experience to get customers to return.
So Bavarian Garden, hidden away in the Holiday Inn in Middletown, has an immediate disadvantage. It is hard to find and there are hardly any signs letting potential customers know of its existence. Even after you enter the hotel you still have a hard time finding the restaurant. (Go around to the right and down a hallway.)
Another obstacle is preconceptions. People tend to equate hotel restaurants with poor quality. Usually this has no real basis, as is the case with Bavarian Garden. If you're a fan of real German food, this place is a pretty good choice.
The room is bric-a-brac haven. There are tons of dishes, beer steins and mugs, mirrors and an extensive collection of Nutcracker dolls decorating the walls. In one corner is a wooden hutch that could have come from Grandma's kitchen. A raised dining section is separated by metal railing; tables are copper-topped, and chairs have a rustic countrified design with rough-hewn wood and slatted seats. Modern, low hanging chandeliers don't quite fit, but the music certainly puts you in the mood. It features everything from rock to pop to country, all sung in German. The room is amusing, if a bit weird.
The menu features an extensive list of authentic German dishes, everything from Sauerbraten to Bratwurst with stops along the way for Wiener Schnitzel and Sauerkraut. And there are more mainstream dishes available for the less adventurous, Chicken Marsala for example, and a big guy next to us is tearing into a burger.
Salads are served with entrees here and ours are nicely composed of chopped lettuce topped with grated carrot, cucumber, tomato and served with a house vinaigrette.
Next up is a simple dish, Potato Pancakes With Apple Sauce ($4.75). Four small, warm cakes arrive, lightly browned, not quite crisp and speckled with green flakes of parsley. They easily fall apart - too easily actually, but they are pretty tasty with the apple sauce. One of the allures of potato pancakes is the textural contrast between crisp and soft; these are all about soft, and we miss the crisp.
Our second appetizer is the best dish of the evening. Potato Pierogies With Onion Sauce ($5.95) features four plump potato ravioli smothered in onions and butter and centered by a small mound of delicious sauerkraut studded with bacon. The pierogies are tender and light, and the sauce and sauerkraut combine nicely for a hearty, soul-warming appetizer. These are humble ingredients - potato, onion and cabbage - elevated to royalty status. The appetizer portion would do nicely as a light entree.
Roast Suckling Pig ($17.50), is not the traditional version. Here it's roasted, cut into large chunks and served, skin intact, in a roux-based brown sauce that has an interesting nutty flavor of caraway. The pork itself is deeply flavored, though the skin is soft. Again we miss the crackle and crunch. Alongside is a small mountain of sweet and tasty red cabbage, a couple of potato pancakes and a delicious baked apple.
Wiener Schnitzel, Veal Cutlet ($16.50) is a German classic. We're served two small cutlets that are pounded so thin they almost disappear. And while they're crisp, they're also a bit tough and dry. Alongside is the same good red cabbage and real German spaetzle. Usually you see the small nubby sections of pasta - those are the Swiss version. These are long and range in thickness between linguine and fettuccine and are both tasty and tender.
Dessert is a Chocolate Fudge Cake ($4.95) from an outside supplier. It's notable for the tasty addition of coconut and little else.
A number of beers are offered here from both America and Germany, but we decide on Pinot Noir from Villa Mt. Eden ($20) in California. Light and perfumed with black cherries, it pairs well with our hearty meal.
I love America as a melting pot, so naturally our waitress in this German restaurant is from Puerto Rico. She has tons of personality and loves to laugh; we joke and talk with her throughout our meal. She makes our visit more enjoyable.
Dinner comes to $69.70, a very good value for lusty German cuisine.
This place is a nice change of pace. Tucked away in the Holiday Inn, it deserves to be discovered by more people. The food is a bit hit-or-miss, but there is serious talent in the kitchen; the chef and owner, Harold Sterk, knows German food. The room is offbeat but fun, and the service is full of smiles and giggles. Prices are very reasonable. You have to search a bit to find Bavarian Garden, but trust me ... if you're a fan of German cuisine, it's a worthy quest.
The Dish rating