SCHENECTADY — The photograph shows a sunny summer day in Munich, husband Eric is hoisting a tankard of beer and I’m munching a big, soft pretzel. We’re in the biergarten at the Hofbrauhaus and the memory of that day was locked in a photo album on the top shelf of my closet.
That is, until Wolff’s Biergarten in Schenectady brought it back.
There isn’t much physical resemblance between them besides communal tables and signature tankards, and they both encourage the flow between indoors and out, at least in the good weather. Wolff’s is more of an outpost of the European-style biergarten, and I’m glad they’re here. There wasn’t anything like it before the first Wolff’s biergarten opened in Albany, and there’s nothing else like it.
WHERE: 165 Erie Boulevard, Schenectady, 631-9517, www.wolffsbiergarten.com/schenectady-new-york
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20 for food
MORE INFO: Cash only. Off-street parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Big screens that show soccer games all hours of the day and night with food and drink to go with it make the Capital Region a more cosmopolitan place. But Wolff’s doesn’t mind if you don’t like soccer; heck, they even don’t mind if you don’t like beer. Everyone is made to feel welcome.
Ann Marie and I went for lunch. We didn’t get much past the stuffed moose head before we came upon the kitchen. The term is used loosely — it’s a hot dog cart with small griddle and counter, but it does everything it needs to. Josh greeted us and gave us the lowdown on the menu.
It’s rudimentary, but like the kitchen, the menu has everything you need. They have sausages: brats, weisswurst, curry wurst, Italian sausage, Polish kielbasa, New York and Chicago dogs, reasonably priced between $3 and $6, locally procured where possible. There are a few sandwiches. You can get sausages for brunch (served daily until 5 p.m.); eggs, too, served on a brioche roll or croissant or in a wrap. Mastroianni Bakery is a supplier.
Not everything is available at the Schenectady location, Josh told us, and we were disappointed that we couldn’t get the butternut squash soup or the s’more’s dessert. The Schenectady spot is reworking the kitchen hours; food will be available during the day, although it might be minimal. We went to the bar to think.
“I like that they’re so friendly,” said Ann Marie, after bartender Mike went off to fetch a can of Downeast Cider House craft cider ($6) and a Saranac root beer ($3). “He knows the products,” she said, adding that he gave her the rundown on the kinds of hard cider available without pushing one particular kind. The cloudy cider smelled and tasted like the freshest apple cider you get at the orchard, only hard.
You have to pace yourself with the peanuts. The salty shells are addictive, the nuts toasty brown, and they’re everywhere, in baskets and barrels always within reach, and you dispose of the shells in the most leisurely manner — on the floor.
Josh came over to the bar and took our order, totaling it in his head. “That’s twenty bucks,” he said, “No rush.” I went to the hot dog cart to pay — it’s cash only, by the way, and there are two ATMs.
Ann Marie says that the Albany location is crammed with an after-work crowd, and I expect we got such attentive service because it was a quiet time of day.
Ann Marie got a grilled sandwich ($7) with pulled pork, jalapeños and Monterey Jack slices on both sides of the bread. The cheese acted as a barrier, keeping the sandwich neat, Ann Marie said, adding, “The sweet pork is a balance to the jalapeño and keeps it from being overpowering.” I liked the looks of the thick white bread slices.
My tray contained pulled pork and the mashed potatoes ($7) I chose over sauerkraut. I thought the pork was a bit sweet, but it was pretty tasty.
The red potatoes were garlicky and rich, with an interesting texture somewhere between smashed and mashed. We both liked them.
We also both enjoyed the mac and cheese ($6), “A meal in itself,” said Ann Marie. We liked the medium-sized shells, the abundance of sauce and how some of the shells made long cheese strings between the paper boat and the fork. We tasted barbecue seasoning but also something hot. Delicious.
No way could we finish, and Mike found us some boxes. I put something in the tip jar (Josh was having a good day), and we were on our way. Our tab: $20 for the food.
Wolff’s also has a location in Syracuse and is opening soon in Troy. So if you want to watch, say, a match between West Ham and Arsenal at 7:45 a.m. on a Saturday, set yourself down at a long table, order yourself bratwurst and scrambled eggs and join the crowd.
They’ll be open early. And somehow that makes us all better off.