"Gemütlich" has always been one of my favorite German words. It doesn't have a precise English equivalent, but an establishment that is gemütlich is cozy and evokes a sense of belonging. It was a word I heard a lot growing up, usually when my German mother was reminiscing, misty-eyed, about life in Bavaria.
Even if you don't know the word, you feel the sentiment at Gourmet Haus Staudt. This delightfully original indoor-outdoor beer garden is tucked in the back of a 42-year-old German food and sundries shop in downtown Redwood City. It is the kind of place a middle-aged couple can walk into on a raucous Friday evening, squeeze into a long table occupied by a bunch of 20-something techies celebrating the end of another week of digital disruption and end up sharing some laughs -- and maybe even a soft pretzel the size of a steering wheel.
Speaking of techies, it was here in 2010 that an Apple engineer, seemingly undone by the generous glasses of pilsner and lager, managed to leave behind a top-secret prototype of the iPhone 4 that he was field testing. "I underestimated how good German beer is," he reportedly posted on Facebook. Tech website Gizmodo eventually got its gleeful hands on it and now Apple probably has a "no partaking of German beer" clause in its hiring contract.
Proprietor Volker Staudt, whose immigrant parents Lucy and Lothar opened Haus Staudt as a flower shop in 1975, said the last thing he wanted was to profit from Apple's misfortune. Still, the publicity storm, which included an article in The New York Times, helped put his little beer garden on the map.
Happily, though, the backroom beer hall still feels like a secret hideaway, almost like a speakeasy. Decorated with posters, deer antlers and various Germanic knick-knacks, with long tables designed for communal seating, it all feels cozy, quirky and welcoming.
A couple of years before the iPhone brouhaha, Staudt and his wife Maryann had somewhat reluctantly taken over his parents' Broadway Street shop. He appreciated the jars of imported goods, beer steins and advent calendars that had been the mainstay of his parents' business for decades, but running an old-timey imports store wasn't exactly what he'd imagined for himself. So, the one-time construction superintendent thought he might try serving some beer and food out of the back room. Things took off from there. (Family matriarch Lucy was initially dubious, but she has since come around and continues to work a few days a week in the store and bar.)
German beer is at the heart of Gourmet Haus Staudt.
"We are proud of our traditional German food, but we don't really consider ourselves a restaurant," Staudt said. "We are a beer hall that happens to serve food."
Three fantastic German beers take center stage here and are always among the dozen or so rotating libations on tap. The Weihenstephaner vitus, a light single-bock beer made with fine yeast and given to a creamy foam, has been made for almost one thousand years by one of the oldest breweries in the world, the Weihenstephan Monastery Brewery. A comparative upstart, the Köstritzer Schwarzbier has only been on the scene since the 1800s. This is a deep, dark beer with chocolaty undertones, but surprisingly smooth, without any of the charred bitterness of so many dark beers. The Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel, also a dark lager, is another standout example of German monks doing what they do best. A host of other German beers make regular rotations at the tap, as well as a few local craft beers such as Monterey's Alvarado Street Brewery.
The beers are served in elegant, authentic glasses and are as delicious as the Apple engineer reportedly attested on Facebook. So make sure your phone is secured, toast your new friends at the table and enjoy some of the best and hardest-to-find tap beers this side of Munich. Prices range from $6 for a small glass up to $11.75 for an Oktoberfest-worthy mug.
Pork and sausage lovers will be in hog heaven here. The food doesn't necessarily rise to the level of "gourmet," despite the name of the establishment, but the wurst, schnitzel and other such offerings are authentic, meaty and offer the ideal culinary counterpoint to beer. Almost everyone orders one of the giant, housemade soft pretzels ($9). For an extra couple of dollars, you can get your pretzel with salami and cheese or with a plate of obatzda, a rich Bavarian Camembert cheese spread mixed with onions, paprika and garlic. Even with a Bavarian mother, I'd never had obatzda before and I'm not sure I will partake again, but the artery-clogging, pinkish lump of spreadable cheese did go strangely well with a glass of the vitus.
The housemade pickle plate ($6) was delicious. Infused with habaneros and herbs, the crisp, spicy, ultra-fresh sliced pickles burned just enough and had us reaching happily for the cooling beers.
The bockwurst plate ($12.50) comes with two pork and veal white sausages, a dab of sauerkraut and a mini fresh-baked pretzel. As with the other entrees we tried at lunch and dinner, it leaned a little to the paltry side in terms of serving size, but the pale sausages were as authentic as they come, flavored with salt, pepper and perhaps a dash of paprika. We also tried a bratwurst plate ($12.50), two highly seasoned pork sausages served with sauerkraut and a small mound of lightly dressed German potato salad. The potato salad was acceptable, but mom's eggy version is better. The schnitzel sandwich ($14) -- tenderized pork loin, breaded and fried, served on rye bread with a small green salad -- was meaty and hearty, but not particularly memorable.
Vegetarians will be relegated pretty much to the pretzel and the French fries ($5 small; $7 large). We opted for a large during one visit and got a huge cone of fresh, hot fries that needed just a bit more salt. The curry ketchup was a nice change from the usual.
Service is friendly and relatively efficient, with full wait staff tag-teaming up to cover all the tables, so if you need another beer (and you will), just flag down the closest server.
One of the most appealing aspects of Gourmet Haus Staudt is the wide-ranging clientele it attracts. Friday nights skew young and hip, but you might find yourself at a table with a family or a group of seniors. During Saturday lunches, a prime spot is reserved for the stammtisch, or "regulars table," where a group of German speakers and friends have been meeting every week for years. Pull up a chair, raise your glass and feel the gemütlichkeit.
Gourmet Haus Staudt
2615 Broadway St., Redwood City
Hours: Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (beer only); Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 1-7:30 p.m.
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5-8 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Outdoor seating: Yes