Restaurateur Andrew Hetzler, who grew up steeped in German-Bavarian culture, realized a childhood dream when he launched Das Biergarten, a Long Beach beer hall and restaurant. His place radiates "Gemutlichkeit," a feeling of warmth and welcome. Weekends, the action really gets going, with live German music and all kinds of beer-drinking festivities at long communal wooden tables.
On a quieter weeknight, a waitress attired in a traditional Bavarian dirndl ferries outsize steins of beer to diners. A favorite quaff is Schofferhofer grapefruit hefeweizen, a fruity, citrusy brew. The ideal accompaniment for most any beer is "das pretzel," a big, warm twist of baked dough, served with superior house-made mustard plus beer cheese. The same pretzel stars in an appetizer called the "traditional obatzda," only it's served with an herbed -- and somewhat sharp-tasting -- Bavarian cheese spread. For something more universally appealing, try chef Ryan Lattmann's crisp, comforting potato pancakes. And, on a chilly day, a bowl of hearty beef goulash.
Tops among a trio of wursts -- available in appetizer or entree form -- is the well-spiced bratwurst, followed by the garlicky pink bier sausage and, in last place, weisswurst -- white veal sausage, which is a bit bland. To get the best of the wursts, order a classic bratwurst sandwich on a pretzel bun, the plump grilled sausage topped with sauerkraut and served with spiced mustard.
An entree you'll see at many a table is schweinshaxe, a big, crisp-skinned roasted pork shank served with the ever-versatile red cabbage. Instead of the somewhat odd-tasting and weighty potato dumpling (which has a pretzel crouton in the middle), request spaetzle, soft little egg noodle dumplings, instead. The butter-browned nuggets also accompany a properly vinegary sauerbraten, or pot roast, as well as "das jagerschnitzel," a breaded and fried pork cutlet in a somewhat pasty bacon-mushroom gravy. "Das schnitzel" features the same pork cutlet, only naked with sweet lingonberry jam and warm potato salad on the side. It's a plate of food that, while not bad, lacks oomph.
Bypass the somewhat starchy house-made rice pudding in favor of warm, flaky apple strudel -- actually a turnover cut into slices. Capped with vanilla bean ice cream, it's an ideal way to end a meal at this festive, friendly spot.