The sound of clinking beer steins welcomed us to Old Vienna Restaurant in Shell Beach. Soon, the clinking was drowned out by a polka band’s rock ’n’ roll version of “Edelweiss,” and the occasional patron yelling, “Prost!” (That’s German for ‘toast.’)
Right now it’s Oktoberfest at Old Vienna, the liveliest time of year for the traditional Bavarian restaurant.
What better an excuse to get together with friends for Austrian cuisine washed down with a pint of delicious German brew? Old Vienna makes it easy to attend, hosting Oktoberfest Thursday through Sunday until Nov. 3.
I visited the 35-year-old family-owned eatery last week to experience the Bavarian festivities. Founded by the Reithofers in 1972, the restaurant is now run by the Reithofers’ grandchildren, who continue to specialize in authentic German and Austrian dishes.
Long tables were filled with vivacious diners, many singing along with the band, the Trio International. The band puts a cool twist on polka music with its upbeat and eclectic renditions of classic songs.
Servers quickly traverse the long aisles with large plates of food and beer steins, the men dressed in traditional lederhosen, the women in ethnic dresses.
The mood is celebratory, to say the least, as young and old patrons mingle and enjoy the festivities together.
Beer is sold in small, large and extra-large steins, though none should be considered small. A handful of German brews are on tap.
The Franziskaner wheat beer was a crowd favorite, and its rich sweet flavors brought back my own memories of a trip to Munich a few years ago. Don’t ask for a light, Budweiser-like brew at this festival or you may be booed out of the room. If you’re going to partake you have to drink like you’re in Germany and that means drinking aromatic, cloudy beer that is heavy enough to be a meal on its own.
Old Vienna slims down its menu options during Oktoberfest to a handful of favorites including bratwurst, roasted chicken, schnitzel, and goulash (a spicy pork stew). The only downfall with fewer choices is the crusty house-made pretzels are eliminated, likely because they’re time-consuming to make. (The homemade pretzels served with whole-grain mustard are worth a return visit after the festivities end.)
There’s a flat fee for dinner, $32, but it includes a never-ending array of dishes including soup or salad, a couple of cabbage salads, sauerkraut and hot rolls—all served before dinner arrives.
The potato soup is a steaming bowl of vegetables with generous chunks of potatoes. The house salad is also a nice start with its crisp lettuce and fresh vegetables complimented by the house-made creamy dill dressing.
For entrees, the schnitzel —a pork-loin pounded thin and crusted with a spiced breading, then pan-fried — was a favorite with my friends. Served golden brown, it was flavorful and moist with a crispy, well-spiced exterior. A couple of lemon wedges added a zesty touch.
The half-chicken dish, the least unusual of the entrees, comes with a stein of beer. Slow-roasted and coated in paprika, the chicken arrived moist on the inside, crispy on the outside.
The goulash, a savory, thick soup with chunks of pork and onions, delivered a seriously peppery kick of flavor, likely from an infusion of flavorful paprika gravy.
Sausage-lovers will not want to miss the bratwurst (ground pork) and bockwurst (ground veal).
The plump sausages are boiled and served with whole-grain mustard and German potato salad. The bockwurst is white, and although its appearance may put off some, it’s delicious. The meat is smooth and delicate, and I liked it better than the bratwurst, although that was also good. The German potato salad is served warm and packed with diced sausage. Tangy and creamy, this completed a satisfying, albeit heavy, entrée.
Today’s generation of Reithofers has brought new life to the traditional restaurant and its Oktoberfest celebrations. An evening at Old Vienna is a quick way to visit Munich without leaving the Central Coast.