This article is re-published here via the print publication Food Life Magazine:
When venturing out to explore one of the many culinary wonders in Western North Carolina’s vast edible landscape, one might not imagine themselves driving too far past the string of consignment and car repair shops lining Weaverville Road. Just as you’re considering turning around, you’ll find a picturesque Lincoln Log structure brought to life with American and German flags flapping in the wind above a Biergarten, dotted with colorful umbrellas awaiting sunny afternoons and merry beer-drinkers. A gentle lull of accordion-laden music drifts through the air as you pass by a row of colorful gnomes. You have arrived at The Bavarian Restaurant and Biergarten. A wooden sign atop a metal arbor entrance, reading ‘Herzlich Wilkommen,’ in thick yellow hand-painted letters, shares a German ‘Welcome’ as you head toward the cabin door.
Just before entering this sweet little southern slice of Bavaria, you’ll find a golden plaque stating that this magical little structure of days past is in fact now part of the National Register of Historic Places. That may not come as a surprise if you’re local and familiar with the rich history of not only this gem of an antique cabin you stand before, yet the 19 others dotting the acreage behind it. In fact, these beautifully aged Appalachian log cabins have adorned this land since 1929, finding their way into the spotlight with the filming of several scenes from Thunder Road, the 1958 black and white crime thriller based on the glory days of moonshine running in the south.
As I sit down to talk with Bavarian Dining’s Co-Owner Janis MacGregor, she confirms. “Yes, a scene from the movie was filmed in one of the log cabins,” She reaches for a framed picture from the classic, yet stopped mid-arm’s reach remembering that someone had taken it not long ago. “Unfortunately, people sometimes decide to leave with some of the memorabilia from time to time,” she shakes her head. “We have customers that will give us things and replace items too.” She goes on to confirm that the cabin was in fact added to the National Register of Historic Places due to its age and placement in the classic southern film. We’ve also been told that this was the first place Colonel Sanders ever cooked. And if you keep going toward Weaverville, there’s a sign for Sander Court, where he apparently set up his first diner.”
While the days of moonshine running and the Colonel’s motel/southern eatery are no more, the history of another time and another country are felt simultaneously in every nook and cranny. “We were built in 1929 so this is all the original stuff. Sometimes the sunlight comes right through the walls,” MacGregor laughs. You might be wondering how a woman with the last name MacGregor finds her hands in schnitzel batter, welcoming visitors into this unsuspecting restaurant off the beaten path in the cozy little town of Woodfin. She stumbled into the German eatery one day to meet with Dieter “Doc” Homburg, the original founder of Bavarian Dining & Biergarten in 2007. A happy-go-lucky German man, a quick Google search turns up memories of Doc playing a street organ as guests sip from their frothy boots of traditional Bavarian beers, awaiting their meals by the fireplace. After several years crafting recipes, smoking bratwursts, and entertaining guests, Homburg was ready to retire. MacGregor found him at just the right time, offering to take over his unique eatery, passing on his carefully crafted recipes to the next round of chefs in the small one-chef kitchen of his design.
Now five years since taking the reigns, MacGregor sits staring up at the stein-laden ceiling, smiling and sharing memories passed on to her from German customers. “I’ve learned everything I know about the food and Germany through the customers,” MacGregor shares. “It’s such a treat for the servers here to work with everyone that comes in. When you ask how the food is, you’ve got to learn how to pull yourself away. They’re going to give you a ten minute dissertation as to why this is the best red cabbage they’ve ever had,” she laughs. “I remember a group of Germans that didn’t speak the best English. The table next to them overheard and spoke in German and they interacted for a long time. Come to find out, two of them had lived on the same street in Munich in different years. People that are excited about being here, they’ll talk to the other tables, and find out sorts of things.”
A destination location, MacGregor calls it, meaning it’s a restaurant most people are traveling to visit, not simply one they’re screeching tires beside as they search Highway 25 for a place to have dinner. The small wooden bar, which MacGregor and her silent business partner built after taking over, boasts all German taps, which the waiter will happily allow you to taste-test in tiny steins. Not to worry beer connoisseurs, once you’ve found your flavor, you have your choice of a pint or a full liter, served generously in a large glass boot. If you search the location on Instagram, you’ll find happy boot holders patiently awaiting their bratwursts and schnitzels next to the fireplace, gazing out over a dining room filled with treasures–from traditional lederhosen to mounted antlers, a sea of steins and sweet paintings of far away countrysides. And the wait is certainly worth your patience as nearly everything in this little taste of southern Germany is made in house–from the bratwursts to the mustard and sauces for the main entrees like the gingersnap gravy to the dressings. MacGregor says the prep time for the menu items is hefty as the processes can be tedious. Like traditional German menus, the Bavarian’s is very meaty, boasting a wide variety of hormone-free meats and several locally sourced, including bison from Dr. King’s Farms and wild game from various WNC vendors.
When asked which of the dishes was most tedious to make, MacGregor points to the Schweinshaxn, a roasted ham hock and popular Bavarian dish, which requires a 24 hour order notice for proper preparation. Served with munchner onion beer sauce, spaetzle (German homemade noodles) or knodel (potato dumplings), MacGregor says many people will come in wishing they had known to call ahead for this dish specifically. The menu boasts quite a selection, including a vegetable strudel for those with a less carnivorous appetite. Oma’s (Granny’s) Beef Rolladen is a favorite, another tedious dish to prep, featuring rolled beef with onion, carrot, celery and bacon. The sauerbraten, a roasted beef, is marinated in wine, vinegar and spices for days and served in a tangy, house-made gingersnap gravy. The sides range from traditional German potato salad to sauerkraut, red cabbage, spaetzle, and more. I highly recommend a half-liter of the Oktoberfest, which will arrive with a warm loaf of bread and savory herbed butter as you sway to the gentle lull of organs and flutes, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of Germany from the heart of Woodfin. Lasst euch nicht lumpen, hoch mit dem Humpen! (Don’t be a slouch, raise your glass!)
Learn more about Food Life Magazine, including where to find a hard copy of this local food-based publication here, http://www.foodlifemag.com.