Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Bavarian Inn, Eureka Springs

First I want to say how sick and wrong it is to drive clear down to Arkansas and then find excellent Czech-German food. Come on, y’all! This is the place to get yer fill of fried catfish, barbecued-anything, pulled pork, ribs, greens and grits and fried okra, beans an’ cornbread . . . and chicken. Northern Arkansas is the land of Tyson!

But then you come upon a place like the Bavarian Inn, and you think: “Maybe I should make an exception.” You think: “We can have catfish at lunch tomorrow. And we can have ’cue for dinner after that.” And those would be good ideas.

First, as usual, I have to disclose my bias: I’m a German American gal, and my grandmas are dead, so if I want the food of my people, either I’ve got to make it myself, or I have to find it at a restaurant. And for some reason—ridiculous, considering how many German Americans there are—German cuisine is crazy hard to find.

Well, unless you count America’s first choices in fast foods: Hamburgers and Frankfurters! Thank the Germans when you enjoy these foods!

Okay, I’m digressing. But it’s my blog, so there.

The Inn

As I mentioned previously, we were glad we didn’t stay at the famous Basin Park Hotel in downtown Eureka Springs, because there was a biker rally that weekend, and we do sleep better when Harleys aren’t roaring and rattling the windows.

I should mention that selecting lodging is often a harrowing experience for me, because I am rather picky. I like the idea of choosing locally owned, independent motels, but I have had bad experiences in the past; the so-called nonsmoking room that reeks; the soiled carpets; the doors with broken locks. . . . But trust me: The Bavarian Inn is a keeper. Put it in your address book; “favorite” it.

The Bavarian Inn (and its restaurant) are just about a mile from downtown Eureka Springs, west of town on Highway 62. It looks like a Swiss chalet on a little hill; you can’t miss it. The owners are immigrants from Czechoslovakia and have run it since the 1970s. I got the idea that the employees and owners are a tight-knit group.

Every experience at the hotel was pleasant. The lobby staff were friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and enthusiastic about the town, the inn, and the restaurant. “Were you thinking of dining here tonight? If you were wanting the duck, let me know about when you’ll be arriving, and I’ll make sure they have it cooking for you, since it takes extra time.”

And the morning we left, we were encouraged to take extra (fresh made) blueberry coffee cake with us from the complimentary breakfast: “We weren’t full last night, so take all you want; we have more than enough.”

For what we got, the room rates were very reasonable: An enormous, clean room, comfortable king bed, nonsmoking, a gas fireplace, sofa, coffee table, jacuzzi, a nice private balcony overlooking peaceful pine trees and the rest of the forest, oak furniture, and truly soundproofed walls and doors—for just about a hundred dollars. It was great to wake up early, slide the door open onto the patio, and let clean air and the voices of fish crows, towhees, cardinals, and mockingbirds drift in.

The folks at the Bavarian Inn advertise their packages and ability to do special requests—champagne in the room, welcome baskets, in-room massages, horseback riding and canoeing packages, etc.—but we didn’t partake of any of these. I suspect they do take good care of their guests in these respects, too.

The Restaurant

Again, it seems strange to have German-Czech cuisine in the heart of hillbilly country, but don’t let that bother you. You can see the complete menu online at the lodge and restaurant’s Web site, here.

The rye bread served with every meal was lightly flavored and pleasantly crusty, definitely homemade. All the food was excellent. The soup of the day had sauerkraut in an orange, creamy base, with paprika, I think, and it was great. Actually, that and the rye bread would have satisfied me as a light meal right there.

I also want to mention that they had nonalcoholic beer available, and I am grateful for that.

But the entrées were worth waiting for. I had the duck, which was cooked perfectly, and yes, Dr. Johnson, I couldn’t resist eating some of the skin—it was really good. The “sweet and sour cabbage” was what I’d call “cooked red cabbage”; mild, not too sweet or too sour—who wouldn’t like this? (Why doesn’t it appear on more restaurant menus?) The Bohemian dumplings were the big, thick kind, sliced so that they looked like pieces of bread. It was all really yummy.

Sue got the “Chicken Anna Marie”—I think because my name is Julianna Marie, and Sue thought it was funny—the owners of the Bavarian Inn named it after two of their grandmothers, or their mothers (I can’t remember). The chicken breast was topped with a creamy sauce with mushroom, smoky bacon, and onion and was accompanied with red cabbage and those pretty potato dumplings—which were wonderful dipped in the sauce.

By the way, our waiter was right-on. She was a little late getting to us at first, but the host who seated us warned us that she’d be a little delayed beginning our service—about five minutes. Since we had been advised of this when we were seated, we didn’t mind the wait at all. And once she began serving us, she was attentive and helpful.

I overheard a couple at a table next to us, clearly on vacation and visiting Eureka Springs and this restaurant for a second time, tell our waiter they were so glad to have had her again this visit, too. You know, that’s something when you remember your waiter after perhaps months or even years.

The ambiance and decor: Darkish but with an open feel, chalet-style; quiet, decorated with a lot of German stuff. Lots of wood. Comfortable and rather informal, but still a place for you and your children to sit upright and display good manners. Comfortable like being at grandma’s house, but still a wine-list-and-cloth-napkins kind of place.

My mom got the “Bavarian plate,” which was a sampler with bratwurst, sliced smoked pork, potato pancakes, and a side of sauerkraut. She let me try samples, and it was all good. The sauerkraut was mild and tasty; it had definitely been cooked with broth or onions or white wine or something. In other words, they took the time to doctor it up so it tasted terrific.

My dad got the sauerbraten—which the menu says is actually a Czech version of the dish, called Svickova. He must have enjoyed it okay, because he made it disappear and I didn’t get any! He did comment that it lacked the intensity of flavor that my sauerbraten has: “Maybe they didn’t marinate it long enough.” Well, or maybe they don’t like it as strong as I do! Anyway, he might have been saying that to flatter me and encourage me to make sauerbraten more often.

We had apple strudel for dessert, served warm, and it was perfect—the layers of pastry were crisp and thin as paper on the outside, and inside were substantial enough against the filling to maintain the shape. The filling was just sweet enough, and the apple flavor shined through. Powdered sugar garnished the top; and you can get it with a scoop of ice cream. Yes.

In summary, the thumbs are all up in our party of four; we’d love to return again: The Bavarian Inn Hotel—check. The Bavarian Inn Restaurant—check.

(. . . Or should I say, “Czech.” Ha ha ha.)

Yeah . . . you can go get barbecue some other night.

Bavarian Inn on Urbanspoon

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