France has its croissants, cheeses, and red wine. Spain has its tapas, paella, and red wine. Germany has pretzels, sausages, and beer. Of all the things Germany is known for, somehow their food does not always get top billing; however, German cuisine has a lot to offer.
Luckily for us in C-U, we have an authentic German restaurant about 40 minutes north in Gibson City: Bayern Stube. Established in 1991 by German immigrants and still family owned to this today, this place has to be seen to be believed. The definition of "experience dining," walking in the front door, you are instantly transported to a cozy Bavarian family restaurant (Bayern Stube actually translates to “Bavarian living room”). Countless Gemütlichkeit (antiques, beer steins, and other knick-knacks) and trophies of hunters past line the walls. If you are lucky, a real accordion player dressed in lederhosen will come around to each table and serenade you with all the classic German folk hits. The first time I visited, I really felt like I was back in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).
Bayern Stube has a top-notch menu of German classics year-round: käse spätzle, noodles with cheese; wursts, sausages; schnitzel, breaded pork or veal cutlets; and kartoffel, potatoes prepared a bunch of different ways. However, they host three annual events that should not be missed: Hunter’s Feast (end of February through early March), Maifest/Spring Festival (early May), and Oktoberfest (weekends in October).
We made a reservation to go to the Hunter's Feast celebration, which is held February 22rd through March 9th this year. The Hunter’s Feast is a truly lovely thing. Right in the middle of the cold, grey months of winter, we are given a German culinary feast with offerings including wild boar osso bucco, braised rabbit, venison fillet, and a variety of wild game sausages. The imported German beer selection and local brewery Riggs, is cold and on tap, ready to accompany any dish of your choosing.
For a vorspeise (appetizer), we ordered a traditional Oktoberfest-style pretzel ($8). Traditionally served with salted butter, this treat was accompanied with herbed butter and beer cheese dip. It was huge in size, warm to the touch, and had a crispy crust — everything you want. They also offer a complimentary bread basket complete with thick, dense white and wheat bread served with butter and mettwurst (smoked sausage) spread, which is truly unique. We definitely did not need both, but we definitely enjoyed both.
To wash it all down, we opted for schwarzbier (a dark, nutty black beer) available in 1 liter ($13) or a half liter ($6.50). Planning to dine with a non-beer drinker? There are other drink options, sure, but I suggest their beer mixes. They offer a version of a cola bier (dark beer mixed with Coca-Cola and brandy) and radler (lager mixed with Sprite). They are both so tasty and refreshing, with only a subtle beer taste.
For the main event, we ordered the wild game sausage sampler ($28) from the Hunter’s Feast menu. The sausages include (pictured from left to right): wild boar, elk, rabbit, and duck. I had assumed they would all taste similar to a traditional German sausage (bratwurst). I assumed wrong. The boar had a delicious fat profile and a crispy, caramelized casing, whereas the elk was the gamiest in terms of taste. The rabbit was a light-colored sausage that tasted heavily of herbs and the duck had a surprisingly warm profile, sweetened with apple brandy. The sausages come with spicy brown mustard and sweet Bavarian mustard, but you honestly do not need them. The sampler is served with sweet, warm red cabbage and potato croquettes (essentially fried mash potato balls), which are the perfect complements.
We also ordered a schlachplatte ($22) from the regular menu. This dish included a sample of classic German fare: smoked pork loin with a salty, savory demi-glaze, one grilled Bavarian bratwurst, leberkäse (the German version of meatloaf) topped with a runny, fried egg, one smokey link sausage, stewed red cabbage, tart sauerkraut topped with fennel seeds, and “kartoffelpuffer,” their famous potato pancakes. To have a traditional experience, order a side of apple sauce to put on top of the potato pancakes. The whole plate was hearty and scrumptious. The samplers are definitely enough to share; although you should know if you plan to go that route, there is a small plate sharing fee.
At the end of your meal, the waitress, clad in the traditional dirndl dress, brought a massive tray of desserts to our table. They were impossible to pass up. With a selection of cheesecake, chocolate lava cake, carrot cake, tuxedo cake, lemon mascarpone cake, black forest cake, or creme brulee, I promise they will have something you like. If you are full, consider taking a piece to-go ($7 per slice). No German chocolate cake, you ask? Fun fact: German choclate cake is named for inventor, Sam German, and has no German heritage.
Rather drink your dessert? Opt for a hot glass of glühwein, which is a warmed, red wine spiced with cinnamon and cloves. It will warm you up, inside and out. I could not pass up the black forest cake. It is a dark chocolate, layered sponge cake with sticky sweet cherries between the layers, and iced with whipped cream. Although it was not real whipped cream, but that non-dairy spread, it was still an absolute delight in both appearance and taste.
Reservations are required on the weekends, so make your reservations for this coming weekend ASAP (217-784-8304). Thankfully, they also offer the hunter’s menu on weekdays too, but only until March 9th, so don’t wait too long! Guten Appetit!
209 N Sangamon Ave
T-Sa 4:30 tp 9 p.m.
Th 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Su 2 to 8 p.m.
Photos by Madeline Trimble