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    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.

    "Let the guests consider themselves as travelers about to reach a shared destination together," states one of famed epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's rules for dining. It wasn't until after we drove past a succession of Slovakian-tagged street signs – Jergo, Stefanik, Moyses, Kuzmany – then heartily feasted on a slew of Austro-Hungarian, Czech and German delights, that we fully grasped the essence of the gastronome's precept. Bohemian cuisine was somewhat foreign to us, and sharing its bold flavors in intrepid conviviality made reaching that figurative "shared destination" all the more enjoyable. In literal terms, that terminus was Chef Hans Café, a Winter Park hideaway serving deftly executed Eastern European comfort staples in a warm setting befitting an Old World matriarch.

    Like weary vagabonds, we pored over the ample offerings on the menu; eager anticipation of their arrival provided plenty of time to down a pint of Golden Pheasant ($6.25), a smooth Slovakian lager that nicely complemented the restaurant's heavy fare. And I do mean heavy.

    There are some weighty items on the bill of fare, and the scales of taste tipped in favor of the black forest schnitzel ($17.95), a gouda-cloaked pork cutlet breaded, fried and served atop a potato pancake a few notches above your average hash brown. It's a flavor-packed hungry man's meal, to be sure. Potato knodel ($6.95) is a little less substantial, but just as satisfying. Held together by a dollop of sour cream, the quartet of mashed-potato-textured dumplings came with enough sauerkraut bedding to give the dish a country peasant feel. I should mention that their fresh-baked bread (served with a cream-cheese butter seasoned with scallions and paprika) and complimentary cranberry-walnut salads were both signs of great things to come.

    The sauce in both the Hungarian goulash ($15.95) and the chicken paprikash ($14.95) was heartily sublime. The burgundy wine-paprika gravy upstaged the goulash's beefy hunks of silken sirloin and pillowy spaetzle; if it's old-country comfort you crave, this is the dish for you. The paprikash is lent a luxurious thickness by the addition of sour cream, and when slathered over a succulent, nicely seasoned chicken breast makes a dish for all palates. Herbaceous rack of lamb's ($23.95) elegance was diminished by undercooking (which was remedied, however) and a side of mint jelly that tasted more like Wrigley's Spearmint Gum Jell-O.

    Hearing "Lullaby and Goodnight" certainly didn't help our slumbrous state at the meal's conclusion, but we soon found ourselves awakened by the arrival of traditional apple strudel ($6.95), a light, flaky pastry and not the thick, dense version I was expecting. A side of creme anglaise was a nice, though not necessary, touch. I enjoyed every forkful of seven-layer cake ($6.95), a wonderful slab of alternating layers of sponge cake and chocolate buttercream punctured by shards of caramelized sugar. Visitors to the restaurant may recognize it as the erstwhile Chef Henry's Café, which also served Eastern European fare. The place has been sold to Stephanie Gadient, a Swiss native who renamed the restaurant after her father Hans.

    "Tell me what you eat" said Brillat-Savarin, "and I will tell you who you are." After my meal at Chef Hans Cafe, I am sold.

    Gain's German Restaurant doesn't have the most charming name, but there is a good reason why the former moniker, Old Munich, needed to be replaced. Munich is located squarely in Bavaria, but the restaurant's new owners, Hans and Kessy Gain, wanted their menu to reflect all types of German cuisine, not just Bavarian.

    And so far the Gains are doing an able job of showcasing the German culinary canon. While their menu includes the same comfort cooking – schnitzels, bratwursts, sauerkraut and spaetzle noodles – found at a dozen other German restaurants around town, the Gains expand the possibilities. They create elaborate presentations with smoked-salmon canapes, intricately sliced pickles and salads anchored by arched fans of lettuce leaves. Even fish such as rainbow trout are pan-fried from head to tail and served whole in the Teutonic tradition ($15.95).

    Most of the members of the wait staff are bilingual and can handle German-style service. That means waiters might sweep through the dining area bearing four or five entree platters at a time without losing so much as a crumb.

    The menu's German-to-English translations are quite literal. One appetizer, described as "diced white meat," is pork in a creamy wine sauce topped with melted cheese ($5.75). This stew had a sharp taste and is thick enough to serve as Swiss-style fondue.

    Simple dinners such as braised beef cubes ($13.25) are made more interesting by being dished up with thick sauces flavored with peppers and onions. And they are just as worthy as some of the more elaborate creations.

    Breaded, fried veal schnitzel ($21.95) would be plenty with a side of sauerkraut. But it's even more of a delicacy topped with a grilled egg and surrounded by canapes of caviar, anchovies and smoked salmon.

    Some entrees come with the "special salad," which turned out to be simply chunks of bell peppers, celery and cucumbers. But it's unexpectedly delicious, due to a hot, peppery vinaigrette. Red cabbage laced with apples and bacon is another side item not to miss.

    This restaurant still has the look of a revamped pancake house, with a steeple roof and long, narrow proportions. But in its current incarnation it's more polished than those first impressions imply. Tables are draped with crisp, white cloths, and the space remains largely free of knickknacks and clutter.

    Other than during the Friday- and Saturday-night German "cowbells" musical acts, the place is toned down enough to be a business-lunch destination. This alone makes it a cosmopolitan restaurant worth exploring, in an area where ethnic takeouts and hamburger joints abound.

    Homey (or "gemutlichkeit") gasthaus in Sanford's historic downtown district offers bier, wursts, spaetzle, strudel and some of the finest sweet red cabbage you'll eat, but the talent in the kitchen extends well beyond simply German food: Once a month, the chef serves a haute tasting menu.

    I can't say my initial visit to this German steakhouse on a Saturday night got off to a particularly good start. For one, I didn't eat anything because I wasn't seated; and I wasn't seated because I didn't have a reservation; and I didn't have a reservation because all my previous calls to the place went unanswered. Exiting in a mild huff, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to drive back another day, but not before calling them four additional times from my car, which served no purpose other than to provide a little microwaved warmth to my cerebellum. When I finally did get a human voice on the line many days later, it was none other than Matthew Winter himself. When asked why they didn't answer their phone between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. the previous Saturday, he responded, 'We were probably too busy to pick up the phone.â?� Whatever, man.

    So back to Ocoee it was and, this time, a dimly lit booth amidst Bavarian chalet bric-a-brac beckoned. I have to say it felt pretty homey. Not sure why a lava lamp bubbled near the coffee machine ' perhaps to add a personable element, because the Winters don't exactly foster an environment of convivial warmth. Rather, a cool Teutonic efficiency pervades, not unlike that of a Volkswagen assembly line, where diners submit to the culinary equivalent of Fahrvergnügen.

    There's a German dish or two on the menu ' bratwurst ($9), for example, and a wonderful paprika-tinged beef goulash ($6) that was more a soup than a stew. The shallow bowl didn't hold $6 worth of goulash, in my opinion, but the sublime essence had me craving more. Wedges in the tomato- avocado salad ($9) were bathed in a tangy vinaigrette and sprinkled with crispy roasted soybeans ' an interesting addition.

    As a steakhouse, Matthew's lies in the meaty murk between family and premium, with cuts being of the Supreme Angus Beef variety, a USDA Choice, not Prime, grade. Rump steak also makes the menu here in the form of 8-, 10- and 12-ounce New York strips. A New York strip is traditionally a cut from the tender short loin, not the rear, but the fatless rump steak medallions on the mixed steak skewer ($20) were as tender and flavorful as any cut demanding a beefier price. Interspersed on the miniature sword were chunks of filet and even a stray chicken morsel, it, too, deliciously seasoned and tender.

    The ribeye steak ($26) had more than the usual amount of marbling, but was cooked to order over their cherry and oak-wood open grill. The baked potato, which I slathered with their homemade sour cream, was the perfect side.

    An 18-ounce porterhouse ($37), dubbed 'The Melbourne,â?� is also offered, but it's a lightweight compared to those offered at other steakhouses around town, including Outback.

    Black Forest cake was surprisingly absent from the menu, but I enjoyed the German cheesecake ($6) with its light and fluffy filling and cakey crust. I also liked the German chocolate cake ($6), a warm marble cake dusted with powdered sugar and served with a dollop each of chocolate ice cream and fresh whipped cream.

    Ã?bermensch he's not, but Matthew and his folks run a surprisingly superior strip-mall steakhouse; if only they were as adept at running over to the phone when it rings.



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