Who’s up in the Jaeger Haus?

It looks dark and a bit menacing, certainly not the kind of place you’d drop by alone for a quick bite. But its very existence consumes you. Every time you drive up to Bennington it’s there: staring and waiting from its Rt. 7 perch, making you wonder “What is that place?”

Yes, it’s the Jaeger Haus. Mostly to satisfy my own burgeoning curiosity, but also because I felt a journalistic duty to expose this mystery, I trotted up to our northern neighbors in Pownal for a Sunday dinner. And believe me, I dreaded the duty I was about to perform. Images of sausage platters and barrels of potatoes tormented my mind; my belly protested vehemently against the ensuing onslaught. But the German nightmare I expected surprisingly didn’t have much to do with the menu I discovered.

Chef and owner Ewald Lange certainly offers a fair share of German dishes (the sausage platter tops the menu), but he also includes a large selection of steaks and seafood, even an “Italian Corner.” The self-titled “German and American cuisine” actually works rather well; perhaps the menu makes sense because German standards have so infiltrated the American diet.

For example, I ordered sauerbraten, a “marinated beef roast with potato dumpling and red cabbage,” but basically it was pot roast and mashed potatoes soaked in gravy. It tasted good but didn’t seem to be particularly German. In fact, the most German thing about it was the name, which is fun to say. Kind of like wiener schnitzel or kassler rippchen. Try it.

Now before I reduce the entire history of German food to mere linguistic fun, let me reiterate my point. One can certainly enjoy a quasi-German experience with this food, but it pretty much equates to a solid home cooked meal. Sides like sauerkraut, coleslaw, and cabbage and entrees like chicken cordon bleu and beef stroganoff are dining hall staples; in fact, Dining Services probably consulted Ewald when they made their menu.

And since Ewald has run the Jaeger Haus for over 25 years, the menu has probably slowly distilled into the mishmash it is today in order to cater to its mishmash clientele.

As you’ve probably already realized, vegetarians need not bother with this one unless they can subsist on mushrooms alone. Beef, chicken or fish dominates every single dish, but that’s to be expected from a German restaurant. Ewald probably doesn’t want your herbivorish business anyway.

The service is exemplary. My waitress knew exactly what I wanted without asking, and she definitely kept my table full. Each meal comes with homemade soup or salad, a basket of basic breads and a relish tray to complement. I chose the lentil soup: basic, hearty, but once again just a step up from the dining hall’s soup.

The dessert menu offers some tasty options if you’re not too full from your meat and potatoes. Black Forest cake, German chocolate cake and a homemade rice pudding top off the list; I chose the latter and found it to be decent.

The bar is stocked, appropriately enough, with a nice variety of beer and wine. The bottled imports are what you’d expect: St. Pauli Girl, Becks light and dark and the neighboring Heineken and Amstel, but your best bet is probably the Warsteiner on draught. The Jaeger Haus changes its wine menu occasionally to suit its specials, but the house choices are basic and cheap. And yes, it does serve Jaegermeister.

The restaurant is split down the middle, dining room on the left and lounge on the right. If you feel like boozing with some local ancients, this would be a prime place to do it. You’d probably get a couple of good yarns with your drink. The decor of the place is amusingly quaint, however, I found the huge painted sign “The Black Forest Room” announcing the back dining room and the decorative plates on the walls to be mildly nauseating.

The prices are adequate if not cheap, considering the amount of food you receive: $10-16 entrees, $3-6 appetizers, and $3 desserts. I paid about $20 for a full meal after tip.

If you feel like a unique dining experience, by all means try the Jaeger Haus. But if you feel like a unique meal, better skip this one.