Review:
Biergarten's Bavaria Beckons

by Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the February 11, 2003 Issue #177 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Oktoberfest Musikanten


What to do? You're at Walt Disney World, and you'd like try a dinner show, but you don't want to splurge on the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. You'd like a big, hearty dinner, but you have some fussy eaters in your group. You want to take the kids, but you're not sure that they'd be able to sit through a refined meal in a "nice" restaurant.

The answer is quite simple: Go to Germany.

The Germany pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, that is.

Part dinner show extravaganza, part Eastern-European dining experience, the Biergarten offers a little bit of something for even those who never heard the word "Gemutlichkeit" (goodwill) before... much less know how to spell it!

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OKTOBERFEST YEAR-ROUND
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The celebration of Oktoberfest is said to have begun with the wedding ceremony of Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig of Bavaria) and Princess Therese in 1810. Little did this royal couple realize that their nuptials would lead to one of the biggest annual celebrations in Germany, maybe even in Europe. And it's the job of the Germany pavilion's Biergarten to recreate the best parts of this event, capturing the essence of "Gemutlichkeit" that is at its core with good food, good beer, and good entertainment.

You'll find the restaurant in the rear of the Germany pavilion, after short walk through St. Georgsplatz, past St. George and his dragon. As you cross the threshold, you feel not as though you're walking into yet another eatery, but as though you're stepping into a cool autumn evening in a rustic Bavarian town square. Look over there, there's a quaint old house with half-timber construction and window boxes overflowing with colorful flowers. And up there, above the trees -- wow, there's a full moon tonight!

And up on stage, against the backdrop of the snow-topped Alps, a lederhosen-clad band of musicians is performing with accordion, clarinet, trumpet... and yes, that's really a singing saw!

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BOUNTIFUL BAVARIAN BUFFET
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Biergarten InteriorAs your eyes adjust to the dim lighting inside the restaurant, you'll see long tables that accommodate at least 8 people -- if your party is smaller than that you may be seated with strangers. But don't worry -- they won't stay strangers for long!

Fair-haired German Cast Members, like Nina, our server on a recent visit, wear embroidered dirndls and other traditional garb as they scurry around taking drink orders and making guests feel at home, before directing them to the buffet tables on the upper level. Germany's Beck's Beer (20 or 32 ounces of it at a time!) is featured here, as well as a selection of fine German wines. After sampling a fairly dry cabernet and raising a toast (Ticky tacky ticky tacky, oy oy oy! Prost!) at the urging of the onstage performers, we inspected the buffet.

The dinner buffet ($19.99 for adults/$7.99 for children 3-11) is divided into several sections. At the salad table there's a wide selection of German-inspired cold salads: cucumbers in sour cream, tomatoes and onions, herring, carrot and bean salad, potato salad, sliced beets, and a brat (sausage) salad. There were also cold cuts with Muenster cheese and a variety of rolls, including pretzel bread (like large chunks of warm, soft pretzels). The hot table features chicken schnitzel and sauerbraten, roast beef marinated in vinegar and spices that impart a slightly sour flavor. There's also rotisserie chicken, roast pork, and stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut with kielbasa, an assortment of sausages, and of course spaetzle, the well-known doughy little dumplings that accompany many German dishes. Potatoes with onions, shredded red cabbage, and savory chicken soup round out the table's bounty.

Our party of 8 (four adults, four children) managed to find enough variety to satisfy our hearty appetites, however, there were definite standouts among the selections. The Sauerbraten was flavorful and slightly tart without being overpowering, and was literally fork-tender. The chicken schnitzel, a variation on the popular veal dish, was hammered thin slices of chicken breast, coated in a lightly seasoned breading -- tender and very tasty. The pork roast was perfectly done and the brat salad (very much like sliced hot dogs in a vinaigrette dressing) was solid, plain fare. The stuffed cabbage was almost, but not quite, as good as Grandma used to make, with rice-studded meat filling and slightly overcooked cabbage.

Interestingly, none of the four kids cared for the spaetzle, not even my "never met a carbo he didn't like" 10-year-old. Maybe it was the consistency. The grown-ups found them to be delicious, however, especially when topped with savory beef gravy with mushrooms. The kids, in fact, found the buffet missing most of the usual "kids' selections" that they'd come to expect in Disney restaurants -- no macaroni and cheese, no chicken nuggets, no hot dogs, no French fries. Don't worry about them, though -- they found more than enough to eat amongst the salads and chicken and sausages!

There was plenty to be happy about when they reached the dessert table, as well. Creamy vanilla pudding, apple strudel with vanilla sauce, applesauce, almond/raspberry Florentine-style cookie bars, and Black Forest cake were more than enough to satisfy their sweet teeth. Adults and children alike agreed that the vanilla pudding and the almond/raspberry cookie bars were the winners, while the strudel, though overstuffed with apples, had a rather tough outer pastry.

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MORE THAN AN OOMPAH BAND
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Alp Horn at BiergartenContributing to the festive dining experience at the Biergarten is Oktoberfest Musikanten, the group of men who don the alpine shorts known as lederhosen and charm audiences with the happy sounds of accordions playing polkas, and even the Chicken Dance!

Each show varies from the one before -- well, it would have to, or the poor performers would probably go insane, since they go onstage about once an hour starting around lunchtime! But both of the two sets we saw on our recent visit included the dueling cowbell contest between Nils and Siegfried. Kicking off with a good-natured nod to "Dueling Banjos", the competition quickly deteriorates into a frenzied free-for-all, with each bellringer urging "his" side of the audience to shout louder and louder. The result -- gales of uncontrollable laughter and more raised glasses!

The 25-minute shows are liberally sprinkled with a variety of "traditional" Bavarian entertainment, including the musical saw, alpenhorns (think "Ricola" cough drop commercials!) and the aforementioned accordion playing and polkas.

The band concludes each set with an audience-participation activity -- maybe it will be urging everyone to get on their feet for the Chicken Dance or a polka, or maybe it will be an uproarious yodeling contest. Our experience was greatly enhanced by a nearby large group who were obviously of German descent -- they were enjoying the festivities, and the freely flowing Beck's Beer, almost a little too much... if you know what I mean.

Finally, at the end of every set, Oktoberfest Musikanten exhorts diners with glasses raised and a chant of ticky tacky ticky tacky ticky tacky! After toasting to good health with a hearty "Prost!" beverages are gulped and the spirit of gemutlichkeit continues to grow.

Obviously, the Biergarten is not the place for a quiet conversation, nor is it the place to sample the finest haute cuisine Walt Disney World has to offer.

But it's a great place especially for families who want to have some fun with a good, solid dinner without breaking the budget.

Prost!

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Biergarten also serves a lunch buffet from noon until 3:45 p.m. Lunchtime prices are $14.99 adults/ $6.99 children 3-11. Oktoberfest Musikanten performs its 25-minute set daily -- it begins at 1:15 p.m. every day except Thursday, when it starts at 4:45 p.m.

For Biergarten menus, visit here!