Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Zum Dürnbräu, Munich

Zum Dürnbräu is an institution in Munich.  It has been in operation since 1487!  Yes, 1487, that is NOT a typo.

Currently, the site has a biergarten out front and a second one out back, and a restaurant inside.  At one point they were also a brewery, so of course beer is still a focus of the establishment.  The menu is traditional Bavarian cuisine, as you may expect given the history.

It is also the only place that I dined while in Munich that I selected, as I was there for a conference, and thus, large group conference dining it was.  I did my usual Julie-research before my visit, and was pretty stumped about where to dine.  I can't say that Munich is known for its food (there are a few Michelin star restaurants actually, but, they are quite pricey and not appropriate for a business trip).  Everything else sounded highly mediocre, the only rave reviews were for Mediterranean cuisine, which is never my choice, or, beer and pretzels, like Augustiner Keller, where our groups ended up most nights.

After extensive research, I found Zum Dürnbräu.  It actually gets good reviews, and, even locals claim the food is good (AND the dessert, always a key element for me).

So, when I was able to plan a dinner for a small group of 4, it is Zum Dürnbräu we headed.  I easily made a reservation online, and got a confirmation e-mail, but, then the table wasn't reserved when we arrived.  It wasn't a problem, as we were dining a bit early, but, if we had requested a later time, it certainly would have been a problem.  The place filled up fast.

The food was shockingly delicious, both the savory and the desserts.  It was however very heavy food, in ridiculous portion sizes, so you really, really should split mains with others (which we didn't do).  Not a single one in my group was able to finish our individual mains.  The food waste distressed me, but, there was soooo much extra, that it wasn't possible to just "have a few more bites to finish it", which is normally what I end up doing.

Anyway, I really liked the food, unlike pretty much everywhere else I dined in Munich.  So, two days later, after a two day conference of nearly 200 people, I decided to return, this time with a much larger group: 25!  I very rarely "waste" a limited opportunity exploring a new city to return to the same place twice, but, Zum Dürnbräu was such a solid choice, not that I had any evidence of competition, that I really did want to return.  I'm glad I did, uh, glad I dragged 24 of my closest dining buddies?

We had our one German speaking colleague call in the morning to make the biggest reservation he could.  He secured us a large table in the back garden for 20.  I let others know of our plan, and quickly we filled the 20 seats.  But word of mouth was strong, and somehow an additional 5 people found their way to the restaurant with us.  The restaurant didn't seem to mind that we kept adding people in, as we crammed them into our table, pulled up extra chairs, and just mushed in.  Everyone seemed to want a chance to dine with the "famous" Julie Dining Club!

Visit #2 was also a success, and most everyone agreed it was the best food they had in Munich.

Service was good on both visits.  We were provided with English menus, and our server the first time was relatively comfortable speaking English.  Our server the second night didn't speak any English to us, but, it was easy enough to communicate, and, we did have one German speaker with us who could explain some things, like, that we wanted to dine family0style this time, having learned our lesson with the individual orders the first time.

I'm glad I went twice, and honestly, I would have gone back another time if the opportunity presented itself.  It is the only place, besides perhaps Burger King (more on that soon!), that I'd return in Munich.

The Space

Finding Zum Dürnbräu might be a bit difficult if you don't know what to expect.  It is located close to the Marienplatz, a very lively, jam packed, shopping district.  But, the storefront does not open into the mall area directly.
Instead, you go down a side alley, lined with bicycles and little else.
At the end of the alley, there it is, a bit of an oasis.  Nice curb appeal, with a cheery front biergarden.  I think they don't take reservations for this front area, and it isn't very well protected from the rain, a common problem we faced on this trip.
The main restaurant inside features one long, communal table, plus tables of assorted sizes.   Decor is what seemed to be "traditional Bavarian", like the cuisine.  On both visits, every table inside had a reserved sign on it.  Like I said, make reservations here.
Back Biergarten.
The back biergarden is where we were seated both times, helpfully protected by awnings.  Most tables back here were also reserved.

Along the fence was a trellis with ivy, and a fair amount of vegetation.  It really did create a nice relaxed garden sense.  The back garden had no view to street, so it was a nice oasis, although, a beer-filled oasis.

The ground was cobblestones, the tables and chairs wooden with red slats.
The red theme continued to the tablecloth, napkins, even the coasters.

Each table had a candle on it.


The drink menu was 3 pages long, and was entirely in German, so, I didn't quite know what was available.  It seemed to be that there was beer on tap or in bottles, apertifs, red wine, white wine, a rose, and I think a full bar.  There also seemed to be standard soft drinks and juices.

My colleagues got beer (non-alcoholic was available too), but, I don't like beer.  I didn't really want wine at a beirgarden, so I thought cider might be a good choice, and would pair with the food in the same way that beer would.  I tried to ask my German speaking fellow diners if cider was a thing in Germany, but, they didn't think it was and we couldn't identify any on the menu.

I found one section of the drink menu that I didn't understand. Weinschorle, it said.  I asked what that was.  My colleagues said it was like wine mixed with sparkling water and maybe some fruit.  I figured that at least sounded different, so, I went for it.
Weinschorle Weiß. €4.50. 
It turns out, weinschorle is a wine spritzer.  I went for the Weiß, the white version, not entirely intentionally, the first time.

I was given a very full pour, even though I ordered the small size.  Ah, German portions.  At least it wasn't a stein-full!

It was actually pretty much perfect.  It did remind me a bit of cider due to the carbonation.  It was refreshing, crisp, and went with the food just like a beer would.  I was happy with my choice. 
Weinschorle Rot. €4.50. 
On my second visit, since I liked the weinschorle before, I opted for the red version.

I didn't like it.  The cabonation level was fairly flat, and the red wine used wasn't very good.  So, barely sparkling low quality red wine?  Yeah, not good.

I also opted for sparkling water on both visits, served with a cute wine-shaped glass.  I did notice that at most places in Munich, sparkling water always came with custom glasses, much like the different beers.

The Food

As I mentioned, Zum Dürnbräu has been around since the 1400s.  As you can imagine, this means that the food is pretty traditional, lots of meat, lots of potatoes, super heavy stuff.

Also, delicious.

Everything we had was cooked to perfection.  Execution really was flawless, which is saying something for group dining.  Everything was incredibly well seasoned.  Shockingly, it was the fresh vegetables, mostly in side dishes, that impressed me the most (which, perhaps was my body really wanting something light after a week of heavy eating), but, of course, I did love the cream sauces.

I'd gladly return to have some of these dishes again, or to try more items.  I'd go with a clear plan to share dishes, and make sure we have at least one salad in the mix to lighten the load.
Traditional & Cold Dishes Menu.
The menu is many pages long, in a binder.  Luckily, they do offer English menus for the food portion.

We skipped everything from the first few categories on both visits: soups, salads, and sausages, although I really was interested in the "Salat mit Lachs & Forelle", a salad with smoked salmon and trout, with "apple potato paddles" and horseradish dressing.  Alas, I never got around to ordering it, and, didn't go back a third time.  Next time, seriously, I want that salad.

I would also love to order the Bayrischer Leberkäs, Bavarian meatloaf, listed in the sausages section.  My hotel had it at breakfast and I kinda adored it, and would love to try another version, and, ideally, not at breakfast.
Pretzels, Complimentary.
On our first visit, once we sat, a basket of two pretzels was brought out (for our group of 4).  On our second visit, we were not provided any pretzels, even though every other table was.  I'm not sure why, perhaps they just didn't want to deal with a group our size?

Also, why only two pretzels for 4 people on the first visit?  Anyway, the pretzels were fine I guess, salted, served cold.  They weren't particularly fluffy.  Not really my thing, and fairly average.  Not worth filling your stomach with, when so many great things lay ahead.  Literally my only food item criticism.

Cold Dishes

The cold dishes section of the menu has some interesting items like salads made from sausages, cold meat, and even a ox muzzle (!) salad.  We skipped all these things the first time, but, on the second visit, I decided to order one cold dish, a dip, as a starter.

Or, what I thought would be a starter.  Except, it came when all the other food did, which was totally overwhelming, as our table was entirely full.  I also ordered it intending it to go with the pretzels, and since those never came, it didn't quite work out correctly.  Doh.
Obatzda. €8,90.
"Obatzda, cream cheese garnished with onion rings."

So, what is Obatzda?  Its generally a mix of a soft cheese, like camembert, with butter and sometimes cream cheese.  Super healthy stuff.

Its used as a spread for pretzels, and is a common beirgarden snack.  Or so I hear.

Anyway, I love cheeses and dips, so on the second visit, I thought this would be great to nibble on while we waited for the mains, and, I thought it would make the pretzels more interesting.  But since it came with the main meal, and we never got any pretzels, my plan was a bit foiled.

This dish, when it arrived, looked nothing like I expected.

For one, it had crazy thin pretzel rods sticking out of it, like the store bought ones we get in the US.  It really did look a bit silly.

Second, the "onion rings" turned out to be just that ... rings of raw red onion.  I sorta thought it would have fried onion rings, since that is what onion rings are to me, but, on second thought, it was a cold dish, I didn't want cold fried onion rings.

Third ... there was basically an entire salad on top, with radishes, tomatoes, and greens, none of which were mentioned on the menu.  The vegetable elements were all fresh and really quite good, albeit a bit out of place.

I still really enjoyed it, although entirely not what I was planning.  The cheese mix was creamy and very flavorful.  While I didn't really have anything to slather it on that made sense, I found that even just coating a tomato in it was delicious, and, probably better than filling my already full stomach full of more bread anyway.  The harsh red onion also worked, and helped cut the richness.

Overall, my second favorite savory bite the second night, and one I'd gladly get again.

Vegetarian Meals

It might seem strange to order vegetarian food in Germany, given that I'm not vegetarian and German cuisine seems largely meat focused, but, I actually really wanted all three of the vegetarian mains.  Of course, being traditional German food, you can be assured that vegetarian did not mean light, and these items were just as heavy, if not heavier, than their meaty counterparts, loaded up with cheese and cream, and plenty of carbs.

On our first visit, I opted for a vegetarian main myself, and on the second, I ordered one for the table.  I never got to try the third, the Gemüsestrudel, a savory strudel filled with vegetables and topped with cream sauce, but, if I manage to go back sometime, it is high on my list.

While perhaps not known for vegetarian food, I can safely say that these traditional dishes were fantastic, and, actually the highlights of my meals at Zum Dürnbräu were all vegetarian.
Rahmschwammerl. €11.50. 
"Fresh mushrooms served in a creamy sauce with herbs and bread dumpling."

On my first visit, when no one wanted to share dishes, I picked this as my entree.  It basically sounded like all things I love: cream sauce.  Mushrooms.  Bread dumplings.

And ... it was totally delicious.  Comfort food at its finest.

Two huge bread dumplings, in a super rich cream sauce, with tons of mushrooms.

There is no way a single person could finish this dish and still manage to walk out of the restaurant, even without ordering dessert.  And I knew I wanted dessert, so, I tried hard not to eat it all.  But it was a battle, as it was so good it was really, really hard to stop, even when I was beyond full.

So, starting with the dumplings.  I wasn't actually entirely sure what a bread dumpling was exactly, but, these were basically big, soft, moist, balls of bread.  Like a scoop of bread pudding or stuffing perhaps.  They were really well seasoned, and perfect for soaking up all the sauce.  I know this description doesn't necessarily sound great, soggy, moist, bread balls, but, I assure you, it worked.  And you'd think that I'd want more texture, a sear on the outside, but, nope, they were fine just like this.

And that sauce.  Swoon.  A super rich, super heavy, cream sauce.  Like the dumplings, well seasoned.  And loaded up with mushrooms, assorted varieties of mostly exotic mushrooms, sliced into various sizes, all well cooked, soft but not mushy.

This dish reminded me of stuffing smothered in gravy, or biscuits smothered in gravy, melded with mushroom stroganoff, all comfort foods in my world.

Everything about this dish was a winner.  Yes, it was rich, it was heavy, and the portion was far too big, but, it was wonderful, my favorite savory dish of all the visits.  In the future, I'd love to get this again, along with a salad, and split them both with someone else, and then of course, have dessert.  That would be the perfect amount of food and balance of heaviness.
Kässpätzle. €10,50.
"Spätzle 'Allgäuer style' mini dumplings covered with a creamy cheese sauce and roasted onions served with a small side salad".

On the second visit, I ordered the spätzle for the group, thinking it would be nice to have something besides meat, and, I wanted to try it myself anyway.

This one said it was served with "roasted onions", which turned out to be crispy onion straws.  Ok, so, "onion rings" is raw red onion, and "roasted onions" is crispy fried onion strings.  Translation is hard.

I'm not sure if you can tell the scale of this dish, but, this was a huge plate, and it was loaded up with spätzle.  With our group size, it was perfect, as we all got a scoop and it wasn't too much, but, like all the dishes, I can't imagine trying to eat it all myself.

The sauce was creamy, it was cheesy, it was pretty awesome, basically like uber mac and cheese.  Uber mac and cheese, with a ridiculous pile of crispy onion strings on top that is.  Of course I loved the fried onions on top too.

Overall, this was my favorite savory dish of the second trip, and my fourth favorite savory bite overall, and I'd gladly get it again.
Small Side Salad (with Kässpätzle).
The spätzle was served with a salad on the side, presumably to cut the richness of the dish.  It was a shockingly good salad, just like the salad on top of the obatzda.

I had read reviews where everyone said the salads were great, but, I still didn't quite believe it.  Why on earth does this place make a good salad?  I have no idea, but, it was super fresh, and full of quality ingredients like bell peppers of assorted colors, carrots, radishes, and tomatoes.  It was wonderfully seasoned, and had a really delicious, creamy dressing.

I actually liked the salad even more than the spätzle itself, making this my third favorite savory bite.  The salad is served as a side dish a la carte as well, and I'd recommend it, just to have something light.

Our Specials

We focused mostly on the specials, because, well, they are special?  The theme here was huge portions of meat, in well seasoned, tasty sauces, with complimentary vegetable side dishes.
“Dürnbräu Geschichten″. € 20,90.
"'Dürnbräu stories', medallions of pork served with hearty cooked sauce of bacon, onions, herbs, garlic and fresh mushrooms, topped with stripes of roasted dark bread and a small side salad."

On my first visit, two of my tablemates each got the Dürnbräu Geschichten.  It too was a crazy hearty portion, and served with the same excellent salad on the side.

I didn't try the pork, nor the bread, as I mentioned, this wasn't a sharing group, but, I did want to try the sauce, so, when one diner was trying to identify the ingredients in the sauce, I volunteered to uh, help.

The sauce was very complex, and my guess was veal based, but I really don't know.  Serious depth of flavor though, and, I loved the bits of bacon in it.  If I wasn't already busy lapping up my own sauce, I would have liked even more.
 Schweinebraten. €15,90.
"Oven fresh pork roast served with crackle on dark beer gravy with potato and bread dumpling and white cabbage salad."

This was a hearty portion of meat, served with two balls on the side.

The first ball was one of the same bread dumplings as I enjoyed on my first visit (although it seemed smaller here), and was not covered in the delicious cream sauce.  It was fine for soaking up this gravy, but, was much better in my creamy mushroom sauce.

The other ball was a potato dumpling, again, not quite what I was expecting.  Does dumpling just mean ball?  The potato dumpling was entirely uninteresting to me.  Basically just a scoop of compressed potato.  In the world of potato based items, this was about as boring to me as boiled or baked potatoes.  Why not a nice pile of mash at least?

The pork roast I guess was fine, but, I don't really like roast pork, and I didn't love the beer gravy either.  My least favorite of the dishes, but I think this was due to personal preference.  I wouldn't want this again, but, the others seemed to think it was fine.  The crackle was good.
White Cabbage Salad (with Schweinebraten).
The pork roast was served with a white cabbage salad on the side, a very generous bowl full.  It was topped with green onion, radish chunks, and bacon bits.

It was really quite good.  The cabbage was fresh and crisp, and it had some horseradish mixed in for some kick.  The bacon bits added a crunch and saltiness.

I loved this, as silly as it sounds, this side dish was my favorite savory of the night.  See, I don't always go for the heavy, decadent stuff!
Schweinshaxen. €14,90.
"Half crispy knuckle of pork, directly out of the oven served with sauerkraut and potato dumplings."

This dish was served with two of the potato dumplings.  I'm not sure how they choose what dumplings to serve with what, as it seemed just as appropriate to me to have one of the bread ones here too.  Anyway, I still wasn't into the potato balls with this dish, although they were good to soak up sauce.

The sauerkraut in this dish was actually in the base of the dish, and it was warm and creamy.  I'm not sure what else was in there.

And, the main attraction, the pork knuckle (or ham hock as I know it).  They nailed the cooking on this, somehow making it tender and shred easily with a fork.  It must have been braised or roasted for a very long time.  The "half crispy" portion was totally crazy, I'm still not sure how that was done.  Was it the skin?  Was it dunked in something and deep fried?  I have no idea, but it was crazy crispy, salty, and right up my alley.

While this dish isn't one I would have wanted on my own, I was glad to try it and really enjoyed the kraut and crispy bits more than I expected.
 Wiener Schnitzel. € 21,50.
"'Wiener Schnitzel' veal escalope, covered with bread crumbles, pan fried in butter, served with roasted potatoes and cranberry jam."

Because I knew it would be a crowd pleaser, I had to order Wiener Schnitzel for the group.  It was served over roasted potatoes with a little bowl of cranberry jam on the side.

The schnitzel was good, pounded thin, very crunchy coating.  The potatoes were fine, but, just roasted potatoes.

This was all fine, well executed, but not particularly novel or special to me, so, after a couple bites, I left this for the others to polish off, while I focused on the things I liked more.

Something Sweet

Of course, one critical reason I pick any restaurant is the dessert.  Zum Dürnbräu is actually known to have great dessert options, all home made.
Something Sweet Menu.
The dessert menu has only 5 items on it.  The classic desserts: apple strudel and bavarian cream, plus a interesting sounding "pancake filled with ice cream", and two versions of kaiserschmarrn.

What is kaiserschmarrn?  Well, the menu said "Warm specialty, directly out of oven, big special pancake, dough, added with almonds and raisins served in twitched bits in a pan, with stewed apples."

I of course had done my research, and knew that these were the thing to get.  The description sounds a bit strange, as in, what is a "twitched bit", but, what it is is a giant, and I mean giant, shredded pancake, sorta pan fried.  Reviewers go nuts over these things, both versions, and report that they can easily serve 4 people each.  I doubted that, but, it turns out, they were right.

Since I returned with a large group on the second night, we were able to try nearly all the desserts.
New Place Settings.
Before dessert was served, we were provided fresh plates and cutlery.  I appreciated that they brought us dessert plates, many places don't provide plates for dessert, even when you are sharing.
Semmelschmarrn. €11.90.
"Bavarian version of “Kaiserschmarrn” directly out of oven served in twitched bits in a pan, with stewed plums."

On my first visit, since we had only four people, and, we were all stuffed since we didn't share entrees, we needed to get just one item, and picked the semmelschmarrn, the Bavarian version of  kaiserschmarrn.  From what I could tell, the main difference between the two is that it came with stewed plums on the side, rather than stewed apples.  I like plums in general far more than apples, and most reviewers had agreed this was the better dish, so, Bavarian style we went.

I knew that this was going to be large, and I knew that reviews said it could feed 4-6 people, but, I also know that I can eat a lot of dessert (although, I'll admit, after such a huge, rich meal, I didn't actually feel like I *needed* dessert, a pretty rare thing for me).  The rest of my group was similarly full, but, I had read so many good things about this dessert, that I had to order it.

My eyes went a bit wide when the giant cast iron pan was placed in front of us, loaded up with semmelschmarrn.  The "pancake" was basically chunks of sweet, hot dough.  The chunks came in assorted sizes, were crispy on the outside, and moist on the inside.  While not technically fried (I think they are pan seared in lots of butter), it basically reminded me of fried dough, except, sorta caramelized fried dough.  The entire thing was coated in powdered sugar, amping up the sweetness even further.

This was truly delicious.  I'd compare it more to fried dough or even beignets than pancake, except that you got your pick of assorted sizes, and thus textures.  In the mood for a crunchy bit?  Go for a smaller, thinner chunk.  Want doughy deliciousness?  Pick a big one.  It was tasty and fun to eat.  Why don't we have this in the US?  Turns out, "twitched bits" are delicious!

On the side was the stewed plums.  The fruit was very tart, and none of us liked it.  One bite in, I realized there was also a few chunks of watermelon (!) on top of the plums, and wisely didn't even try a second bite.  The pancake was delicious enough on its own that we didn't feel like we missed out, but, we all commented that it would be even better with whipped cream.

Anyway, this was very, very good, and I'd gladly get it again.  The portion is huge, and needs to be shared for sure, ideally with at least 4 people, and ideally not after a huge, heavy meal.  Heck, go just for beer and dessert, I'm sure that is fine.
 Kaiserschmarrn. €11,90
"'Austrian style' Warm specialty, directly out of oven, big special pancake, dough, added with almonds and raisins served in twitched bits in a pan, with stewed apples."

On the second visit, I decided we should try the kaiserschmarrn, for variety, and because I didn't like the plums themsevles anyway.

The pancake was nearly the same, except this one also had chunks of almonds and raisins mixed into the dough, which I liked more.  They added a bit more texture, a bit more flavor.  I think you could really mix in anything that you'd put in bread pudding, really.

But, otherwise, the pancake was basically the same ... delicious.
Stewed Apples for Kaiserschmarrn.
The "stewed apples" was applesauce, and, like the plums, it came garnished with a chunk of watermelon (and starfruit, mint, and pistachios).  Seriously, why so much watermelon?

I didn't like this as a side either.  I'm not sure which I liked better, this or the plums, as I didn't want either of them.  No one else did either, and after one bite, no one went back for more.

I also just don't understand why either of these are served on the side.  It seems like whipped cream, custard, or ice cream would make a lot more sense, all three of which the restaurant offers.  But, from my limited research, it seems that kaiserschmarrn is always served with one of these, or another fruit compote.  Also good would be caramel or chocolate or nutella ...
Bayrisch Creme. € 6,90.
"Bavarian crème with fruit sauce."

The previous day, at Augustiner Keller, our gluten-free diner ordered the Bavarian Creme.  I didn't try it there, but, it inspired me.  I've only ever had Bavarian Creme as a filling for donuts, but I love custards and puddings, so, this sounded like the perfect thing to try, and, traditional for the region too.

The Bavarian cream was ok, not quite the consistency I was expecting, a thick, fluffy mousse more than a smooth pudding.  It also had a layer of fruit jam and whipped cream on top, and a little sprinkle of pistachio.  Oh, and a crunchy wafer cookie on top.

I loved that it was served in a little jar, a rustic and cute presentation.  But what I didn't love was the contents of the jar lid.  Fruit.  But not just any fruit: watermelon, my deathly allergy.  Again.  There was also a gooseberry, a slice of starfruit, a chunk of pineapple, a strawberry, and a mint leaf, but, I couldn't get past the watermelon and didn't try any of the fruit.
Apfelstrudel. €5,70.
"'Applestrudel', straight out of the oven, served on a creamy hot vanilla sauce."

And finally, the classic apple strudel.  And, yup, it too was garnished with starfruit, mint, and deathmelon.  Sigh.

It was served warm, with warm custard surrounding it.

The custard was not as thick as the custard at Augustiner Keller, nor as flavorful, so, on this dimension only, Augustiner Keller provided a better product.

I went to try a bite of the strudel itself, on the edge farthest from the deathmelon, before anyone else broke into the dish and contaminated it.  One of my fellow dinners stopped me though, saying, "Really?  It is not worth it."  I realized he was right, and I was being totally foolish.

So, I didn't try the strudel itself, although it did seem like it had a good crunchy crust, and, it was warm.  The custard though, not great, and I wasn't even tempted to take a second spoonful.


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