Restaurant review: Hofbrauhaus rolls out a barrel of corny amusement

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Every day is like Oktoberfest inside Hofbrauhaus Columbus. Depending on your mood and constitution, that could sound fun or frightening. Here's my litmus test: If you don't enjoy huge places, huge crowds, huge food, huge beers and huge decibels, then you might want to wait for next week's review.

Open since the end of October, Hofbrauhaus Columbus is a splinter off the original Hofbrauhaus in Munich. Centuries ago, the Munich Hofbrauhaus (Hofbrauhaus means "court brewing house") functioned as beer brewer to the royal Bavarian court, and it's reputedly the site of the first Oktoberfest celebration.

Like its German predecessor nowadays, Hofbrauhaus Columbus is touristy. Predominantly clad in wood, the Grandview Yard newcomer is an airplane-hangar-sized brewpub with enormous beer fermenters, a giant bar, roomy booths, incredibly heavy communal tables and a large stage from whence live oompah music constantly flows.

Waitresses wear dirndl costumes and waiters don blue gingham shirts. They perform better than might be expected in a place of this monstrous scale and chaotic vibe. Ditto for much of the decent-to-bland, German-style comfort food.

But first a beer. Just a few are offered because only Hofbrauhaus beers are served. How's that for a business plan?

The best strategy is ordering a flight ($5.80). Five generous pours allow tastes of what's available.

All are surprisingly light. My favorites were the brews with more oomph - the mildly cocoa-noted dunkel, the citrus-and-clove-kissed hefeweizen and the gently spiced "weihnachtsbier" (a Christmas lager recently released during one of Hofbrauhaus' elaborate, monthly keg-tapping ceremonies). When settled on a preferred draft, do like everyone else here, and splurge on a hilariously hulking liter ($9.75, $10.75 for the weihnachtsbier).

Soaking up the suds is easy. Soup's on if you like straightforward chili with a spicy kick (a not very bratwurst-y Bratwurst Chili, $5). If beef vegetable soup with sweet and vinegary accents is calling, try the pleasant Gulaschsuppe ($5).

The "Yard" Sampler ($14) is hard to beat as a party-snacking match for groups hoisting Hofbrauhaus' immense glass steins. It's a serves-two-to-four medley of warm jumbo soft pretzels (to be dipped in a beery but viscous cheese sauce), nice fried pickle spears, crisp potato pancakes (big and oniony), plus amiably tart sauerkraut balls accented with ham.

Continuing in sampler mode, the Hofbrauhaus Wurstplatte ($15) could feed two as an entree. Three juicy and delicious grilled sausages (lightly aromatic bratwurst, smoky bierwurst and a garlicky Frankfurter that reclaims its proud name from the lowly hot dog) were served with Matterhorns of overly stiff mashers and warm, mild kraut that was oddly clotted. Indifferent brown gravy also shows up. Too bad the spicy Lowensenf German mustard sold in Hofbrauhaus' gift shop isn't available - though I have nothing against the tableside Gulden's.

I didn't have a problem with the Schnitzel Wiener Art ($15) either. A thin if plate-filling, breaded pork cutlet arrived golden-brown, crispy and more tender than not. Sides of fennel-scented cabbage fried with bacon, plus a warm German potato salad with a sweet-and-sour dressing make it easy to eat your vegetables.

The Bayerischer Schweinbraten ($16) was likewise easy to knock back. Slices of roasted lean pork loin were slathered in that aforementioned gravy. The supporting players were Hofbrauhaus' mild kraut (this time nice and loose), roasted fresh vegetables and a big potato dumpling that was alternately sunny yellow and darkly browned. While I enjoyed the dumpling's flavor, its sticky and chewy texture suggested it wasn't recently made.

I suppose it'd be delusional to assume everything will be cooked-to-order in this immense den of din, lederhosen and gargantuan lagers. But if you don't take anything too seriously - including yourself - Hofbrauhaus can deliver kitsch-fueled giggles and OK food.

Hofbrauhaus Columbus

800 Goodale Blvd., Grandview Yard