325 Borchard Drive
With the demise of Old Vienna years ago and the more recent closure of the German Market and Deli, Ventura’s German-food lovers have had to head south to Newbury Park or north to Santa Barbara to get their spaetzle and wurst fix. The recently opened BierBrats — which appropriately has taken over the German Deli space in the Big Lots shopping center — is gamely trying to fill that gap.
Take note that this is a beer hall, not a restaurant. You won’t find any schnitzel, rouladen or sauerbraten here. As the name implies, BierBrats offers sausages and beer: good, basic German pub fare in a town that loves . . . well, its beer and pubs. The key to presenting such simple fare is to do it well and, so far, BierBrats is worth its marks.
The menu consists of five types of sausage, four based on traditional German recipes and one spicy Italian outlier. The greater variety is in the toppings, which include sauerkraut, onions cooked in beer, relish, chili, pastrami, macaroni and cheese and different mustards. All sausages are served in soft, locally sourced buns with your choice of toppings, and come with small sidesof baked beans and potato chips.
The décor is similarly no-frills. The space is small, with a few raised tables with stools and some long, communal-style tables with bench seats. The six TVs on the walls are a nod, no doubt, to the sports-loving customers that BierBrats hopes to attract. To order, you bring an alphabet block with your server’s initial to the counter and tell the chef behind the glass what you want.
Beer is served in a traditional German stein, which measures 20.5 ounces. That’s a lot of beer to wash down your wurst. The taps list includes some local favorites (Topa Topa, 805) but, unsurprisingly, leans heavily toward the German, which means mainly lagers and pilsners with a wheat beer thrown in for variation. I enjoy the clean taste of a medium-bodied lager, but hopheads and those in search of novelty might find the selection wanting.
My husband and I have become fond of this humble little beer hall, and by now we’ve placed a good dent in the menu. The Nurnberger Munich-style is a family favorite. The dense, meaty sausage pairs beautifully with tangy sauerkraut and a spicy German mustard. Taking his first bite, my husband announced almost immediately: “This is probably the best combination I’ve ever had in a hot dog.” Also very good is the rich BierBrat, laced with cheese and cooked in beer and onions. On its own, served with sauerkraut or, oddly, topped with macaroni and cheese (MacBrat-style), it’s a hearty and flavorful winner. The spicy Italian Paisano-style, with marinara, mozzarella and bell pepper, is a little greasy but packed with flavor. More mild is the smooth-textured Bavarian, a type of white sausage (weisswurst); good, but I’m partial to something with more seasoning. I’ve also got to give the basic frankfurter its due. Yeah, it’s just a traditional hot dog — but it’s a really good traditional hot dog! Try it Coney-style, with chili.
One thing missing from the brats list is a vegetarian option. Those eschewing meat will have to content themselves with the macaroni and cheese — which is fine as a topping, but uninspired on its own — or the pretzels. If you’re not up for a full meal but want a snack with that stein, the big, soft, chewy twist is an excellent choice.
Anthony, the gentleman behind the counter who runs BierBrats with his father, told me that the establishment hopes to be the neighborhood’s go-to beer joint. A basic pub where friends and families can meet up, converse, maybe catch a game and enjoy a beer or a bite in unpretentious environs. Judging by the crowds that trickle in most evenings, I’d say it’s succeeded so far. The food isn’t fancy, there aren’t 101 taps, and you’re lucky if you can find a seat on a busy night. But once you settle in with an ice-cold stein, BierBrats is easily the next-best thing to a Hofbräuhaus in Munich. Prost!