- STELLAR SHANK: Even better than the schnitzel, thanks to a marinade of apple cider vinegar, burgundy wine and spices and fall-off-the-bone tenderness.
Just when you think you know about all there is to know about where to eat in Central Arkansas, you stumble on a German beer hall buried in the heart of Hot Springs. Take the stairs down from Spencer's Corner on Central Avenue downtown and you're carried off to the Old World, where food, drink and music are done well with no fuss.
Steinhaus is cavernous, with stone walls, a brick ceiling and archways lit by candlelight. The atmosphere had us in the mood for a Weihenstephaner Dunkelweizen, a dark wheat beer with hints of fruit and caramel. It's a full-bodied brew that took us instantly back to a long-ago trip to Deutschland. An accordion player and trombonist stomped and shouted their way through German classics (and covers of American standards like "Sweet Caroline"), giving us the distinct feeling we were somewhere else.
Heavy beer almost requires an appetizer. We can recommend the Kraut Cakes ($7.50). A mixture of ground pork and beef was combined with sauerkraut, spices and cream cheese, then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. The patties were substantial and meaty with a tangy flavor from the sauerkraut. The creamy horseradish dipping sauce added umph to the dish.
Steinhaus' menu has something for everyone. There are sandwiches, brat plates and many kinds of schnitzel. We picked the Rahm Schnitzel with pork ($15.25; you can also get chicken). The pork was pounded to a thin sheet, breaded in a perfectly seasoned cornmeal and flour mixture, and fried to a light brown. The accompanying lemon caper beurre blanc sauce, served in a little gravy boat, was sheer heaven. The rich, buttery flavor was cut by the tartness of the lemon and salty capers. But nothing covered up the outstanding flavor of the pork. Don't be shy — pour the gravy over your schnitzel and dig in!
The Rahm Schnitzel came with two sides. We ordered a potato pancake and Brussels sprouts. The former was about what you would expect and done well — shredded potatoes and green onion mixed with seasonings, formed into a patty and fried. It was crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. The Brussels sprouts were cooked so they still had some crunch. They came smothered in a béchamel sauce, which is not noted on the menu, so if you are hoping for a simple green side to offset the rich entree, ask them to hold the béchamel.
- CRISPY OUTSIDE, SOFT INSIDE: Steinhaus' potato pancakes.
The German Bone-In Shank may have even topped the schnitzel ($14.50). The pork shank was marinated in apple cider vinegar, burgundy wine and spices for the perfect fall-off-the-bone tenderness. The magic was in the marinade: rich and flavorful, sweet and tangy with earthy notes from herbs. It went well with the spaetzle we ordered. The side of crunchy carrot salad would have been refreshing if it had not been just a bit too sweet. The blend of spices and brown sugar dressing gave it a flavor we can best describe as "Christmasy."
The Weihenstephaner also makes a great dessert. We stayed awhile to finish our beers and listen to the musicians stomp and shout over the hum of the accordion and the harrumphs of the trombone. Steinhaus has an unconventional atmosphere that invites chatter and general merriment. It's boisterous without being annoying, and great for big groups. Our tall beers finally drained, we ventured back into the cold, looking forward to spring when we can enjoy a drink in the restaurant's biergarten. A lot of downtown Hot Springs can tend toward the touristy or even gimmicky. Steinhaus Keller is anything but.
801 Central Ave., Suite 15
Whether you're looking for a pilsner, a kolsch, a kristallweizen, a weissbier, a schwarzbier, a dunkel, a beckbier, a radler, a trappistbier, a lambic, a heffesweizen or a weizenboc, Steinhaus Keller has you covered. Our suggestion: Pick the one that's hardest to pronounce and roll the dice. Bring a few friends. This place is huge and can accommodate big parties with relative ease.
3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.