At most German restaurants, I get the claustrophobic feeling that I'm eating inside a cuckoo clock. What I wouldn't do for schnitzel and bratwurst without the beamed ceilings and oompah music.
So it is with great delight that I found myself at Bad Ragaz Hall and Biergarten in Boynton Beach. It's German without the lederhosen. In fact, once you get beyond the vaguely Bavarian, heavy wooden doors, Bad Ragaz is more German opera set than German restaurant.
The oversize, bright dining room is centered on a big, square bar with a domed ceiling painted bright sky blue. Hanging from that ceiling is a modern, white, tiered chandelier. Lucite-backed barstools circle the bar. Who said beer halls had to be done in recycled wood?
The primo seats are the seven chic, semicircular tables with beer taps, which can be reserved for only two hours. Each table is outfitted with taps that pour three of the restaurant's 18 German draft beers. You read that correctly: Three dozen German beers are on tap here. If you're not sitting at a taps table, you're at a wooden, high-top table or a long, wooden bench. I'm told the place is packed on weekends, and I suspect that's because there's a dearth of stylish drinking spots in this part of southern Palm Beach County.
Once we got over the smashing interior, we focused on the beer. Along with all that German draft, there almost 50 beers in bottles, from Germany, Italy, Holland and Belgium. During happy hours, from 5 to 8 p.m., many of the beers are half price, which is a nice way to sample the regularly $27 per bottle Collesi Imper Ale Rossa from Italy.
Yes, Bad Ragaz is German with an Italian accent. Or, as owner Alessandro Silvestrihopes, a broad European accent. Silvestri, with brother Marco and father Gino, owns the decade-old Tramonti Ristorante. Most of his family still lives in Naples, Italy, so Alessandro Silvestri grew up traveling throughout Europe. He's well acquainted with beer in Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Italy. He's also watched beer halls blossom in New York, where he grew up.
But Bad Ragaz is not just about beer. Silvestri's updated German/Italian menu is unlike typical high-caloric German restaurant fare. It's not health food. But it's not all meat and gravy, either.
The oversize warm pretzel ($9), for instance, is served with two kinds of mustard and arrives dramatically to the table on a kind of pretzel stand. Delicious steak tartare ($17) is heavily seasoned with cognac and capers and served classic-style with toast points. Pork and beef meatballs ($10), served in a tomato and wine sauce, have pine nuts and raisins in their mix. I like a touch of anchovy in my spedini ($12), but this version was fine.
If you order one salad here, make it the warm, charred octopus salad ($17). The octopus is brilliantly tender and served in a salad made of frisee, sliced potatoes, white beans, lemon, olive oil and oregano. It is divine.
Every kind of German sausage can be had from the grill section of the menu, including pork bratwurst ($8), beef rindwurst ($9) and chicken apple and sage sausage ($8). They arrive on large platters accompanied by thin slices of German bread.
Classic veal schnitzel ($26), served with thinly shredded braised cabbage, turned out to be not as good as the appetizers and wurst. But maultaschen ($14 small/$28 large) was outstanding. These are ravioli stuffed with veal osso bucco.
The kitchen makes the pastry cream that fills fine cannoli ($8). The boozy tiramisu ($8) is also made in-house. But Italian dessert seems unnecessary after all the beer and brats.
Either way, Bad Ragaz makes German cool again.
Bad Ragaz Hall and Biergarten
1417 S. Federal Highway, Las Ventanas Plaza, Boynton Beach
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, daily starting Sept. 9
Reservations: Suggested, especially for table taps
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free garage