If Village Beer Garden’s got one thing going for it, it’s the “cool” factor. Not a seen-and-be-seen kind of cool, but the kind of relaxed, just-grabbing-a-few-cold-ones-with-the-boys vibe that makes it easy to while away a night there. It’s the kind of cool that makes you want to come back. Isn’t that the point?
While the owners of Rye House have taken over this third incarnation of the beer-garden concept at Port Chester’s Metro-North station (only a wooden fence separates the restaurant from the NYC-bound train platform), the décor hasn’t changed much. Wooden tables, some communal, spread out from a central stone hearth. Ironwork and glass frame the space, and a stone bar flanked by flat-screens anchors the front of the room. (There’s ping-pong in the back, too.) Despite the proximity to the train, the restaurant doesn’t suffer too terribly from noise pollution. Though, on occasion, a passing train will sound its horn to ear-shattering effect.
Of course, a beer garden has to have beer. Roughly 20 taps feature European brews and American craft brands. This isn’t the place to discover your new favorite dunkel or a rare doppel bock, but textbook examples of German brewing — from crisp Bitburger pilsner to Paulaner’s golden hefe-weizen — plus big-name European drafts (Guinness and Czech Pilsner Urquell, for example) make for easy large-format drinking. For non-beer drinkers, there’s also a trio of fruity punches. All three skew light on the alcohol but are refreshing.
A selection of German beers on draft.
Once you have a beer, it’s time to eat something. There is table service, but orders must be placed by filling out an order sheet at the table. Want your meal to come in courses? Fill out a separate sheet for each course.
From the appetizers, order the tower of golden, ethereally crisp onion rings. The light batter provides just enough shattering crunch without overwhelming the onion’s slight bite and inherent sweetness. German meatballs cloaked in a white herb sauce were much better than they looked. The spheres were melt-in-your-mouth tender, while the sauce had just enough tang and freshness to counterbalance the meat’s richness.
Unfortunately, a few other starters were less successful. There was nothing meaningfully Belgian about the Belgian house fries nor anything that seemed especially homemade about the homemade pretzel nuggets with honey mustard. While the jungle-green spaetzle did taste of herbs, they were irreparably dry. The house pickles, however, were a pleasant surprise. Intensely tangy and crunchy, they worked well with most items on the menu. The honey-dill pickle spears were ever-so-slightly sweet, but it was the spicy, sriracha carrots that were the first to disappear from the medley.
On the whole, sausages were the best-executed items on the menu. The coarsely ground bratwurst — the best of the bunch — had a burnished, snappy casing and rich, porky flavor. A duet of sweet and hot Italian sausages, served over caramelized onions and peppers, were golden brown and juicy. And the footlong house frankfurter burst with rich, fatty juices as you bit into it, despite being overwhelmed by its crusty roll. The weisswurst was boiled in traditional fashion but had some off flavors during one visit. In each case, however, I could have done without the accompanying unsalted pretzel twist.
Chicken-schnitzel sandwich with red-cabbage slaw; The tower of onion rings is a must-order menu item.
A chicken-schnitzel sandwich wasn’t actually schnitzel (it was battered as opposed to coated in traditional bread crumbs) but was still tasty. The chicken itself was moist and juicy, and the creamy red-cabbage slaw was nicely crunchy (though there was so much, we had to take some off the sandwich). The German potato salad looked like it would be a bust but turned out to have a lovely balance of acidity from white wine, fattiness from olive oil, and freshness from chopped herbs, including chives and tarragon.
There are just three desserts on the menu: warm chocolate chip cookies, fried donut holes, and ice cream from nearby Longford’s. On a busy Saturday night, the donut holes sold out before we could try them, and our chocolate chip cookies took nearly 30 minutes to arrive (the kitchen accidentally burnt our first batch). Rather than ignore the error, the staff dutifully updated us on the situation, and the manager brought the cookies to our table himself with an apology and a few complimentary scoops of ice cream. When the bill came, the cookies had been taken off. Now that’s what we call playing it cool.
Village Beer Garden
3 Broad St, Port Chester