After years of build-out, recipe testing and neighborhood outreach, Highland Park’s all-vegan German beer garden finally opens on Saturday—with nary a lederhose nor kitschy stein in sight.
There are no flags hanging from the rafters at Hinterhof German Kitchen and Beer Garden. There are a few wood beams here and there, but the floor is concrete, the decor is minimalist and the soundtrack is subdued—if you’re expecting a trip to the Alpine Village, think again. What you will find are black-and-white photos from the inside of hinterhofe, the namesake communal parks found between German tenements, and a nod to the communal spirit co-owners Matthias Brandt and Eric Funk hope to build with their new space.
Meant to launch in 2017 and then late last summer, Hinterhof finally opens on Saturday, January 5, complete with a sunny front patio along York Boulevard, an all-German beer list, plus house-made, plant-based wiener schnitzel, sausages, fresh-baked strudel and pretzels galore.
“It’s all [inspired by] what I grew up with in Germany,” Brandt told us last year. “Of course there’s heavy food, but I come from a family where we didn’t eat a lot of meat. I know the Germans are known for their meat habits, but a lot of foods are accidentally vegan, like breads and potato salads.”
To tap into those heavier German flavors without any of the meat, Hinterhof’s kitchen team—heavily led by Funk—makes cream bases from macadamia nuts, almonds and cashews. They season and brine seitan and house-blended patties for days. They deep fry dishes in breadcrumbs and gluten-free alternatives. In an effort to master all of this prep, the restaurant and beer hall is currently only open to friends and family, and serving a limited menu—but come Saturday evening, the front gate will open and the full menu will be in effect.
“We have to ease ourselves into it,” says Brandt. “Prepping for vegan food is so intensely time-consuming because we do everything here and make everything from scratch. And I have so much respect for [the kitchen], because last night, I had to prep from 5:30 at night till 1:30 in the morning.”
While there’s more than a bit of gluten used in Hinterhof’s meat-free sausages and schnitzel, the team developed a handful of gluten-free variations, for those who need or prefer it: The veggie schniztel blends portobello, carrot and beet, and can be topped by a creamy mushroom sauce, while the restaurant is also planning a gluten-free sauerbraten (pot roast). There’s even a gluten-free German pretzel.
Despite all of the labor their menu requires, Funk and Brandt hope to keep everything affordable, and under $20: schnitzels hover around $18, the wursts will set you back $14, while the käsespätzle—a vegan take on the cheesy noodle dish, here topped with grilled onions and bits of smoky tempeh—costs $13. Finish with a sweet house-made strudel (apple or cherry) for $9.
For those who love to day drink, keep an eye on Hinterhof’s extended hours, which launch in a few weeks: weekend brunch and, ideally, even weekday breakfast and lunch. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, you can expect dishes such as the German, which includes bread rolls and vegan cheese; buckwheat waffles; pancakes; and the American, a tofu scramble with plant-based bratwurst and sides of potato pancake and silver dollar pancakes (think: a Grand Slam but vegan, German-leaning and not as greasy). Those looking for even more vegetables will find it in the Farmers’ Breakfast, which throws onions, fried potatoes and even pickles into a tofu scramble served in a skillet.
After nearly a year of geologic surveys, plus restructuring the building’s groundwater and sewer systems multiple times, obtaining permits for the city-suggested bike rack and slicing through red tape for something as seemingly simple as a surveillance system, Brandt and Funk were nearly at their wits’ end. “It got to a point where we said, ‘You know, we don’t know if we want to do this anymore,’” Brandt says.
Thankfully, the duo persevered and used the added time to bolster their concept: Brandt and Funk have gotten involved with the neighborhood—and hired Highland Park residents almost exclusively—and over the last few weeks, Brandt’s been attending barista courses, all the better for Hinterhof’s full, soon-to-come espresso program.
Take a peek at Highland Park’s new all-vegan beer garden, below, then stop by this weekend for a kristallweizen and some schnitzel:
Hinterhof opens on Saturday, January 5, at 4939 York Blvd.