Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe' - Sanford

We had to make our reservations 4 weeks in advance. I didn't think it was necessary, but apparently, this joint hidden in Sanford, FL is one of the nations best to enjoy Germany's finest...
Months ago a coworker was telling me about her trip to Munchen for Oktoberfest. I said that's something I would love to see firsthand. Of course, I'm not going to Germany anytime soon, so obviously it'll have to wait.

Not quite.

She went on to say that there is a little gem of a German Restaurant in Sanford she had been to that really did a good job of bringing that experience to the states, it's called Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe. She'd attended what's known as Schunkel Abend. A few times a week they dust off the lederhosen and pay homage to Oktoberfest.

First off, if you're going to might as well plan on going on an evening they're holding Schunkel Abend and you'll want to make reservations ahead of time. Of course, this charming little cafe is probably a nice place for lunch or a quiet dinner on those dates they don't have anything going on. However, if that's the case, make sure to make a follow-up visit on one of the event nights. You'll be happy you did.

When we arrived, we walked up to the hostess stand and found her talking to another lady about the wait was obvious this other patron didn't have accommodations already made as she eventually stormed off in a huff.

What do you expect? From the looks of the patio dining alone, this place was probably at capacity. After a very short wait, we were brought to our table right next to the stage. What a great spot. We could see the entire dining area. Many smiling faces sitting around us, enjoying their dark biers and schnitzels, all the while swaying back and forth to the authentic sounds of the entertainment on stage. That night, we enjoyed th musical stylings of an older gent, (the musician lineup varies) fully hosen, playing the accordion (amongst other instruments).

As I mentioned before, the dining area was quite full. As we sat down, I had the feeling that it would probably be a bit of a wait before we saw our server. However, not a few minutes after we were seated, a friendly waitress came over to take drink orders, help us with any questions we had and drop off a nice little bread basket. Questions indeed, Hollerbach's offers 50 different German beers and wine (as well as a full liquor bar). After that, not a few minutes went by before she was back, stocked full of steins of all shapes and sizes. I went with the liter to start...and to finish...and in the middle--I got pretty drunk.

As we sat back and enjoyed the music, our entertainer switched back and forth between a few different instruments, but the accordion seemed to be everybody's favorite. We sang happy birthday, Edelweiss, did the chicken dance and of course, the old Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi!

When it came time to order, the menu was surprisingly diverse. Of course you had your wide variety of German sausages, krauts, schnitzels and all that. However, they also had salads, seafood and sandwiches. I started with the appetizer of the gourmet potato pancakes. Good LAWD! They might have been the best thing I've eaten all year. They're topped with smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and sour cream. You get two pancakes, the size of a burger patty and they are making me drool just thinking of them. In hindsight, although my entree was very tasty, I would have been happy just ordering another round of these.

For dinner, I wanted to try and get a good sample of what they had to offer, so...why not go with the schlachtaus platte fur zwei? I'm guessing that translates to butcher shop platter for two? Who knows, it had 3 different kinds of wurst, a ham loaf, smoked pork loin and three sides: their famous heaven and earth potatoes (which is a house recipe of mashed potatoes mixed with sauteed onions and apples…not bad) sauerkraut and red cabbage. The menu says it's a feast for two, or one really hungry person!

The assorted wursts (Knock, Brat and Weiss) were all plump and juicy...the ham was also tasty, with only a few fatty spots that had to be put to the side. I don't do cabbage, gave it a try, hated it, but that's just me. Same goes for the kraut--hate the kraut, loathe the kraut. If kraut is your bag, you'll probably have a different experience.

The food was a hit all around the table, my friends let me try their dishes (some terrifically fried chicken) and we shared ours. With the abundance of meat, there were plenty of leftovers to enjoy the following day. That, of course, cannot be said for the boot the table next to us ordered. Ah yes, das boot...infamous really. This 3 liter leviathan is not for the faint of heart. Once ordered, the musician made a special announcement like there was a general on deck. The group all stood up, acknowledged the rest of us with a silent nod and went to work. One at a time they would stand, drinking till they couldn't drink no mo, hand off to the next victim and sit down. It was definitely a team effort. As the beer line slowly got lower, with each hand off, the crowd would go into a frenzy chanting, "Chug, chug, chug!" Hoping to see the last of it disappear. If I remember correctly (and only lord knows if I do, I alone was 3 liters deep) it was a small girl that finally took the bull by the horns and killed the mighty beast. Whadda gal!

As the night wore on (our reservation was for 7:30) the long tables of drunken patrons began to slowly thin out. It occurred to me that making a reservation for a late dinner would probably be a little less necessary. However, by then it was 9 o clock and lets face it, if you're going for the party, you wanna be there when it's popping, not dying out.

I should tell you that The Willow Tree Cafe isn't just the patron of my praise, they have a very impressive list of accomplishments worthy of mentioning. In 2010 they've garnered: Best restaurant in Sanford on and the #1 spot for German/East European restaurant in the Orlando Sentinel's foodie awards. Oh, local awards aren't nuthin to brag on, huh? Well what about the number 2 spot in the NATION on's list of America's Top German Restaurants in 2009? That do anything for ya?

Go for the show, go for the food, go for the beers as big as your head, just remember, they ain't no Hollerbach girls (it seemed funny after 3 liters of beer, lay-off).


Willow Tree Cafe

Sanford Historic District

205 East 1st Street

Sanford, FL 32771

(407) 321-2204