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Tuesday, October 6, 1998

Oktoberfest all year 'round

Posted on Tue, Oct 6, 1998 at 4:00 AM

Fall is the season when millions of people converge on Munich for Oktoberfest, a two-week bacchanal of beer-drinking, bratwurst-eating and debauchery. But here in Orlando, you can catch the spirit year-round at Bauern-Stube.

It's an old German restaurant with new digs on South Orange Avenue. A former Pizza Hut has been transformed into a German farm-house atmosphere, where costumed waiters with thick accents bring you piles of authentic food and German beer on tap. On Friday and Saturday nights, the live entertainment includes accordion players and an acrobat act from Berlin.

This is the kind of food that has fortified generations of Germans against those bitter, cold winters: noodle casserole with Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese ($8.95) and East Prussian dumplings with horseradish gravy ($9.95). It's becoming more of a rarity even in places like Munich, where these days it's easier to find a good sushi bar than an old-style German restaurant, says co-owner Barbara Hutto, a native of Berlin.

In keeping with a typical German "gasthaus" that entertains travelers, Bauern-Stube is decorated with a dizzy display of knick-knacks, cuckoo clocks, stuffed birds, fir-tree garlands and Cabbage Patch frauleins. My friend thought it looked like a Christmas tree had exploded inside the restaurant. But the clutter adds a cozy touch that grows on you.

Potato pancakes ($4.95), fried and topped with applesauce and sour cream, take the edge off your appetite while you wait for dinner. These are much more than glorified hash browns – the shredded potatoes are bonded with eggs, nutmeg, oil and vinegar, and they're heavy and firm as burgers.

Wiener schnitzel ($10.75) was a juicy, fried cutlet of pork, seasoned with paprika, which gave it a tasty reddish cast inside. The dish was teamed with spaetzle, a cross between noodles and dumplings. Tossed with butter, they're delicious.

The moist and tender sauerbraten ($12.50) is a specialty here, featuring sliced roast beef with a deep, dark gravy of bay leaves and cloves. Even if you think you don't like sauerkraut, definitely give it a whirl at Bauern-Stube. Mild and mellow, fresh out of a pork broth stew, seasoned with juniper, it's nothing like the canned, excessively acidic variety.

Among the desserts, Black Forest cake ($3) was a still a little too icy inside, having just been thawed out of the freezer. Otherwise it was properly folded with chocolate and cherries, iced with whipped cream.

If you visit, heed the posted sign: "15% tip includet in bill!" (sic). Hutto instituted the policy because many of her German customers were not leaving tips, assuming it already was figured in – because that's the custom in Germany.

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