Food & Drink
Review: Garten in Severna Park is Not Your Garden-Variety Beer Garden
Rather, it's a contemporary, elevated form of the concept—from restaurateurs Jeremy and Michelle Hoffman of Preserve in Annapolis.
At first blush, it seems odd that there’s no bar inside Garten, the new German beer garden-inspired restaurant in Severna Park. Also, where are the waiters wearing lederhosen and the waitresses dressed like the St. Pauli Girl? Aren’t German beer gardens venues to, well, drink beer and party?
While you can indeed tip back cans of Kolsch and hefeweizen imported from the Motherland (as well as enjoy drafts from local breweries, including the Gambrills-based Pherm Brewing Company, which makes the house’s signature dry-hopped pilsner) and will undoubtedly have a great time here, Garten is not a typical German beer garden. Rather, it is husband-and-wife owners Jeremy and Michelle Hoffman’s take on a contemporary, elevated form of the concept. Elevated being the key word here.
The Hoffmans, who opened Annapolis’ fantastic Preserve in 2015, met at the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating, they moved to Queens, where they fell in love with places like the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria.
“I just love German cuisine in general,” Jeremy says. “We’ve always had a desire for a spot like that. We had the concept of Garten before we had the location.”
They couldn’t have imagined a better one than the acre or so off Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard that once housed Café Bretton. A garden, where Michelle plans to grow herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables that will be used in dishes and to garnish cocktails, sits behind the parking lot. Patios with picnic tables under a pergola greet visitors before they walk through the front door into a room with a fireplace and a wooden-domed ceiling.
A mixture of tables and high-tops fills the dining room and attached retail wine store that focuses on natural, organic, and biodynamic wines, but also stocks traditional varietals from around the world. Sake, amaro, vermouth, and other spirits also are available for sale. (There’s a $15 corkage fee if you’d like to drink your purchase with your meal.)
Garten also offers several interesting cocktails concocted by bar manager Delaney Pendry. The Tipsy Winnie, made with gin, bitters, Meyer lemon, chamomile, cava, and honey, was our favorite, in large part because of the cute Pooh-shaped jar in which it’s served.
Jeremy and chef de cuisine Greg Anderson, who, like Pendry and general manager Chris Walker, is an alum of Preserve, have created a menu that infuses the core of German flavors with local ingredients and their own sensibilities. This becomes evident immediately.
The smoked salmon dip, made in the tradition of European fish spreads with salmon sourced from Chesapeake Smokehouse in Annapolis, is topped with capers and roe. Dill, sea salt, and olive oil add to its richness. If you can manage not to eat all of it, take some home and smear it on a toasted everything bagel the next morning. (You’re welcome in advance.) During a brunch visit some of that smoked salmon was served atop crispy potato cakes and topped with whipped crème fraîche and dill. After one bite we decreed that this should become a standard on Hannukah menus.
It’s tough to decide the best part of the spinach and sauerkraut dip. The dip’s flavors and creaminess are excellent, but would it taste as good on anything other than the impossibly pillowy pretzels made at Hyattsville-based Lyon Bakery it’s served with? Happily, we’ll never know.
The menu is divided into starters, salads, sandwiches, and platters, and everything we tried hit the mark. The chicken schnitzel and classic burger, each served with a bag of piping hot and properly greasy fries, were both excellent, but even they were outshined by the G Burger—two flattened, grilled bratwurst patties topped with provolone, pickles, onion, lettuce, mayo, and curry ketchup. We’ve never had anything quite like it.
More traditional German dishes like sausage platters, kebabs, and falafel are available as well. Garten gets its sausage from Binkert’s in Rosedale, a legendary purveyor of German meats since 1964. Needless to say, the knockwurst and weisswurst we tried were as delicious as they were authentic. Platters come with two sides—make sure one of them is the hot German potato salad. Apple cider vinegar and sugar give it just the right hint of sweetness. (No matter what you order, do yourself a favor and get as many sauces, like the wonderfully garlicky Dutch labneh, as possible.)
During both our visits, Garten was bustling. Despite the crowds, the service was stellar. If you’re sitting outside and get a little chilly, a server will offer you a blanket. If you’re too warm, they’ll be happy to turn the outdoor heater down.
The employees get to pick what they’d like to wear (using earth tones as a guideline) because, “We do like our staff to be able to express their personalities as much as possible,” Jeremy says.
Less than a year after opening, Garten’s personality is already firmly established, redefining what a German beer hall can be.
GARTEN: 849 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park, 443-261-3905. HOURS: Wed.-Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m. PRICES: Starters: $9-21; Sandwiches: $14-21; Platters: $18-36; Desserts: $9-10. AMBIANCE: Contemporary German.