It’s been ten years since the full-service, upscale German restaurant Knoll’s Black Forest Inn closed in Santa Monica. Ever since, it has been up to old stalwarts like Silver Lake’s Red Lion Tavern and Torrance’s immersive Alpine Village to provide L.A. with anything close to the kind of main course that a German grandma would spend all day braising in apple vinegar, cloves and caraway seed.
Hope flared briefly over the last decade as a renaissance of German beer gardens tentatively dipped their toes in the Rhine by rotating in some of the more significant dinners of Deutschland, but they usually ended up going with the fatter margins that come with serving simple brats, pretzels and beer.
“We tried sauerbraten as a regular menu item,” said Ben Yildirim, co-owner of local beer garden Wirtshaus, “but no one ordered it more than once a month.”
And so, the beer hall experience in Los Angeles has remained largely an exercise in tapping craft beers rather than in dazzling foodies with old-world delicacies.
Enter Michael Momm, a former D.J. and restaurateur who hopes to change that. His Loreley beer garden concept, pre-approved by a successful 14-year run in NYC’s Lower East Side, has opened a left-coast outpost in West Hollywood just in time for “Ein Prosit” (a toast) to Oktoberfest.
Tucked into a sleepy stretch of West Hollywood, Loreley evokes a lodge one might find off a Black Forest town square more than it does any of Munich’s grand, flag-draped beer halls: warm tones, firewood stacked meticulously as if by a house-proud Jäger, rows of string lights stretched across the patio’s communal tables. You won’t be doing the chicken dance to an “oompah” band here; instead, a German hip-hop soundtrack provides hipster cred.
For now, the food menu here is sparse and markedly timid, perhaps due to construction snafus that have set back opening night for close to four years, shelving any best-laid plans to go big quickly. A platter of sausages featuring knackwurst, Nürnberger bratwurst and Hungarian kolbasa is not here to induce revelations but only to serve as the beer garden’s sine qua non. Two kinds of sauerkraut are offered as sides: a traditional white and a red cabbage version (rotkraut) as well as a potato salad. You can get your currywurst fix here, and just like a Berliner at lunch hour, you can pair it with Pommes Rot/Weiss (fries with ketchup and mayo).
“It’s not always going to be like this,” Momm assured us. “Take a look at the New York menu. That’s what it’s going to be. We just opened, but we’ll get there.”
This means there may be a whole lot of surprises on the way, like Jäger Schnitzel bathed in mushroom gravy and even Wurst Tacos. Where have they been all our lives?
In the meantime, there’s home-cooked comfort in the Gulaschsuppe, a thick and murky beef-based veggie soup spiced like a subtle American chili, as well as in the must-order Reibekuchen — potato pancakes crisped golden and left creamy on the inside topped with salmon, sour cream and dill or with applesauce and lingonberries.
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Over at the bar, it’s a forest of taps. Aside from eighteen brands in bottles, Loreley offers 24 different pulls, five of them dedicated to German suds that rotate out seasonally, like Hofbrau’s Festbier and Weihenstephan’s Oktoberfest as well as other favorites like Spaten, Radeberger and Cologne’s own Früh Kölsch. The lagers are offered in a one-liter stein. Of course, for parties, you might ask about the proverbial two- or three-liter novelty steins known as “Das Boot” and leave your subsequent Uber rating to chance.
“I would like to bring [to L.A.] some of the hospitality you’d find in the brew pubs of my hometown of Cologne, where everyone is welcome,” says Momm.
Gemütlichkeit, they call it in Germany, that feeling of warmth. Michael Momm’s Loreley already has it, and any fan of German cuisine can only hope that sooner than later, his ambitions will become fully realized.
1201 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 378-5869, loreleyla.com.