Quality German food is an anomaly, and is typically considered to consist of a single entree: a slab of meat with a ubiquitous, pasty and tasteless brown sauce. However, in the Berkshire Valley, we are lucky enough to have a restaurant such as the Jaeger Haus, where for a decent price one can get delicious and distinctive German food. Perhaps the only critique of the Jaeger Haus is its lack of vegetarian entrees, but that seems to be more a critique of German food rather than of the restaurant itself.
If you have driven to Bennington or to the Manchester outlets, you probably didn’t even notice the Jaeger Haus restaurant on the side of Route 7 in Pownal, Vermont. It is located in a quiet and unassuming brown building with only a small brown sign as advertisement; even the remoteness of the location, especially at night, inspires trepidation. However, when several friends and I visited the Jaeger Haus, we discovered that the inside of the restaurant completely contradicted to our initial impression. While outside the building an air of starkness lurked, the interior was alive with light and color.
The two dining rooms are covered in floor to ceiling dark wood paneling, and bright lights highlight the displays of dishes, cups and beer steins. The calico curtains are cheerful, and the atmosphere is homey and friendly. There are pleasant homemade touches, such as the announcing that one of the dining areas is “The Black Forest Room.”
The Jaeger Haus is owned by its chef, Ewald Lange. Originally from Germany, he came over to America, working at the 1896 Hotel for several years before deciding to open up his own restaurant in 1974.
The menu has no vegetarian entrees. However, meat lovers will find no lack of items from which to choose. Appetizers range from $1.50 to $5.50, and the entrees are all about $12. The entrees come with a choice of soup or salad, a vegetable side dish and a potato side dish. Dinner is accompanied with a relish tray with crackers and freshly baked bread.
Upon entering the restaurant, we sat down at a small wooden table and were immediately served marinated kidney beans and crackers. The beans were cold and tartly flavored with vinegar, and were delicious eaten on crackers. The complementary bread consisted of hot crusty rolls and fresh raisin bread. These were a perfect start to our meal, along with the requisite alcoholic beverages.
Two friends sampled the Jaeger Haus’ draft beer, Warsteiner, imported from Germany. A light beer with no bitter aftertaste, it was cool and smooth. We also tried St. Pauli Girl, a bottled beer that tasted faintly of wheat, and the ultimate German beer, Heineken.
As an appetizer we selected the Westphalian ham. The thin slices of smoked ham arrived on a plate of lettuce. It had a delicate and sweet flavor unlike any other ham I had ever tasted. Not only that, but our waitress also gave us a jar of mustard to eat with the ham. Here, my heart perked up. As a self-appointed condiment expert, I can attest that German mustard is one of the most exquisite condiments known to man. This mustard, “Bavarian style Schaller and Weber,” was phenomenal. Infused with mustard seeds, the mustard was both sweet and spicy with a beautiful bite. It complimented the smoky ham beautifully.
The Jaeger Haus boasts homemade soups, and we tried the two daily special soups: cream of broccoli and minestrone. Cream of broccoli soup suffers from blandness; too often, there is more cream than vegetable, and more salt than true seasoning. The Jaeger Haus’ cream itself was somewhat bland, but the bits of broccoli and the appropriately peppery seasoning more than made up for this fault. The minestrone soup, vegetables and noodles in a thin broth, was amazingly light, with delicate flavor and seasoning.
Our entrees arrived in good time. The two winners of the night were the Jaeger Schnitzel and the Combination Sausage Platter. The schnitzel was a breaded pork tenderloin, smothered in a delicate mushroom sauce. The pork was perfectly cooked, and the breading soaked up the sauce, wonderfully combining the two tastes. The Combination Sausage Platter actually inspired sighs when it arrived to the table. Consisting of knockwurst (beef sausage), veal and pork sausage, it was phenomenally large. Each sausage could have been a meal in itself. The sausages all had a distinct flavor, with a juicy texture and a slightly peppery undertone. Perhaps the best of the three (they were a little hard to distinguish) was the pork sausage, which had a hearty seasoned flavor that went well with the heavenly mustard.
The other two entrees were both decent, but not up to par with the first-place winners. The Chicken Hunter Style was a chicken fillet sauteed with mushrooms and onions and covered in a red wine sauce. Although the chicken itself was cooked very well, retaining most of its juices, the wine sauce couldn’t compare to the outstanding mushroom sauce of the Schnitzel. The Sauerbraten, a marinated beef roast, was a little overcooked, leaving a dry texture.
The reactions to the side dishes were mixed. The red cabbage, shredded and marinated, was exceptional, with a tart and tangy flavor; the spaetzel, home-made egg noodles, were soft, hot and fun to eat. The potato dumpling, which appeared to be a round ball of dough, was decently spongely textured, yet lacked flavor, while the sauerkraut was a little too vinegary.
For dessert, we had (what else?) German chocolate cake. Composed of layers of dense chocolate cake and caramel coconut icing, it was very thick and delicious.
The Jaeger Haus was a surprise to me. I hadn’t expected to find such good German food in a place so remote. On my trip the majority of the clientele at the restaurant was older, but Williams students would do well to familiarize themselves with this restaurant. It is an excellent place to eat and drink, offering hearty fare in a comfortable atmosphere. While vegetarians should steer clear, the rest of us have a great meal in store.