Nine months, $6 million, 750 seats, 16,000 square feet of what was once the beloved Tramor Cafeteria — the Hofbräuhaus opens its doors today at 123 Fourth St. S in St. Petersburg. Originally built in Munich in 1589 by Bavarian Duke Maxmilian, Hofbräuhaus began franchising in the United States in 2003 and has locations in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio. While the Tampa Bay area now overflows with beer, we are impoverished when it comes to Munich-style beer halls. (Mr. Dunderbak's in Tampa is the closest we've got.)
Now is the time we don our lederhosen or dirndl and head over to sample a stein of one of five Munich-style beers that have been brewed for more than 400 years. But before you get spanked (yes, there is spanking), you need to review a few German beer hall rules and regulations.
First off, this is a shared experience. You're going to sit next to strangers, and that's a good thing. Do not skip a seat, put your purse down as a blocker or give anyone the stink eye for sitting flank to flank. I don't yet know if Hofbräuhaus will have brass plates above certain tables that say stammtisch — if you see that, it means the space is reserved. Traditionally, beer halls are a walk-in-and-seat-yourself kind of deal.
A beer hall serves its brewery's own beer, brought to you by girls with impressive biceps. Do not ask for Cigar City or Budweiser. You choose between the original (an easy-drinking bottom-fermented lager, 5.1 percent alcohol), a dunkel, the hefeweizen, a hefeweizen dunkel or the Oktoberfest beer.
Steins are a liter. That's about 2 pints. Plan accordingly. In Germany, lightweights get around this abundance by ordering a radler, essentially a shandy with lemonade or lemon soda. The name "radler" means biker, so this was designed for cyclists looking for refreshment without a booze wallop.
Say prost (it's with a long "o" sound) and vigorously clink any time someone at the table gets a new drink. Look people in the eye and mean it.
Schunkeln is when people link elbows and sway to the music. Try it, you might like it.
Shots are served on a paddle. Once you've consumed your shot, that paddle may be used against your rear end. Why? After a lot of beer, spanking somehow seems like a reasonable activity (don't do this in Munich, though — as far as I can tell it started at the Vegas Hofbräuhaus).
Now, about the food.
The knödel is among the most misunderstood of German foods. Some people see the big white sphere rolling around a plate and say, "What is that?" with genuine foreboding. It's a dumpling, okay, just a little mixture of potato, flour, egg, maybe bread rolls. Its role at the German table is as a medium. Approaching the size and density of a fast-pitch softball, the knödel's aim is to soak up the various brown gravies that occur with regularity in this cuisine.
And then there's the hard-to-pronounce holy trinity: strudel, spaetzle (think of this as knödel whittlings) and schnitzel. This last makes up roughly half of the protein lineup. There are wurst, sausages that come in white, usually veal; pink, often pork; or beige, frequently a mix of meats. (I'm especially fond of the pinkie-sized Nürnberger rostbratwurst, often flavored with marjoram.) And then there are schnitzels, thinly pounded cutlets of veal or pork, egg dipped and breaded and fried. If you're going all in, try it topped with jägersaus (a brown mushroom gravy).
I'm not going to lie. After a couple steins of beer, your attempts to pronounce Schwarzwälder kirschtorte will be entertaining. If you don't feel like being the object of derision, just say, "Black Forest cake, please."