German restaurants have become as rare in Las Vegas as we all fear water may someday be.
A decade or so ago, Las Vegans could count on the Swiss Cafe and Cafe Heidelberg, landmarks that were both on the east side, though close enough to the center of the population base that they seemed easily accessible from most parts of the valley.
The former closed, and then, a few years ago, the latter. The Hofbrauhaus, which serves decent food but has the feel of a beer hall, or at least a beer garden, opened in the tourism corridor. And a few years ago Cafe Berlin opened in the southwestern valley, not so very southwest but enough to seem distant from the far reaches of Henderson and Summerlin. And so, since the closing of Cafe Heidelberg, one of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten has been, “Why don’t we have more German restaurants?”
Well, we now have another, Bavarian Castle, which quietly opened in Henderson in June. And judging from the crowd in the smallish strip-mall spot on a recent weeknight and the harried manner of at least one of the managers, fans of German food are finding it.
So, how is it? Pretty good, but not perfect.
We’ll start with the decor, which is probably the most successful part of the restaurant. The large squarish space is decorated in Bavarian blue, with a huge and quite attractive mural of Schloss Neuschwanstein — and that would, indeed, be a Bavarian castle — on one large wall. Furnishings, like the pillows tacked up for backs as well as bottoms on the restaurant’s seating, and decorative accents and art here and there help break up the space and give the place a cozy and decidedly Bavarian feel.
Then there’s the service, which is provided by an affable woman who, if we understand correctly, is the daughter of the couple who reign over the kitchen. That her English isn’t the best (and that she’s aware of that) just adds to her charm and also to the authenticity of the place. The cook, though — it appears she’s the “Mutti” of the “Mutti and Vati” team — has a head of long, thick, billowing hair, which when we saw her was restrained only by a headband and which we saw as a public-relations nightmare in the wings, since nobody likes to find hair in her soup.
And the food. Overall successful, but a stumble here and there.
First, the Wienerschnitzel, arguably the mainstay of any German restaurant. Like most restaurants in Europe these days the Bavarian Castle uses pork instead of the more traditional veal, but unlike most of them, it’s very clear about just what is in the dish, calling it pork schnitzel, or cutlet, Vienna (“Wiener”) style ($16.50). The meat itself was fine; less so was the flavor of the breading. The cutlets are traditionally sauteed in butter, but whatever was used here didn’t have butter’s characteristic sweet, pristine flavor, so it may have been a blend or may have been butter that was held too long. Fried potatoes on the side were perfect, though, and the salad served before the entree was just fine.
We loved the flavor of the sauerbraten ($22.50), another very traditional dish and one that was, overall, prepared quite nicely. In this dish the beef is marinated, sometimes for days, in a sweet-and-sour mixture heavy on the latter; hence the “sauer.” All that was great, as were the delicate spaetzle — and a mountain of them — on the side, and the sweet-and-sour red cabbage, which the Germans more accurately call blue cabbage. But the thick slices of beef were dry, and a little tough.
A beer bratwurst ($10.95) was fine, as were the sauerkraut and mashed potatoes served with it.
The soup of the day was lentil ($3.95 for a cup, $4.95 for a bowl) and our cup was hot, hearty and well flavored.
We ended on a high note, apple strudel with both ice cream and whipped cream. I’ve eaten a lot of strudel over the years and, reaching for it with a fork, I was prepared to fight with what’s always a tough bottom layer. Not so here. It was very, very good, as was the well-flavored filling, a whole clove and an apple seed attesting to its authenticity.
So, don’t rush in and overwhelm the poor people; apparently, that’s been happening regularly since a recent reported visit by Harry Reid. And maybe you shouldn’t expect perfection. What you should expect is that the Bavarian Castle has much potential, and is every bit as charming as its namesake.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.
Bavarian Castle, 10890 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson; 702-778-2800
Pluses: Charming atmosphere and service.
Minuses: A few missteps on the food.
See our Restaurant Inspection Guide, compiled from the Clark County Health District’s inspections.