The Manahawkin Bay Bridge, which brings you to Long Beach Island, is slated to be replaced sometime this decade. Built in 1958, it sails high over the bay with its unique lighting. But before that bridge, there was another which just skimmed the bay – one that frequently got flooded in bad weather. When that bridge was torn down, its pilings found life after retirement: it now helps hold up The Dutchman’s Brauhaus, an institution of an eatery that is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. This was one of the many interesting tales told to us by Robert Schmid, manager and part owner of the restaurant which has been in the Schmid family since itsbeginning.
We have driven past The Dutchman many many MANY times, and were always, como se dice, hesitant to try the place out. It has that look of a place that time forgot, and those kind of places are usually not the best when it comes to food. So when we were invited to try The Dutchman and see their newest space called The Upstairs, there was admittedly some reservations. But we went, and were treated to an evening that confirmed some things but opened our eyes to others.
The decor is…kitschy. If you have ever been to a German-themed restaurant, it seems that each one got the memo that states you need to maintain that 1975-chic look to the place. Being familiar with this look from a German restaurant, I was neither surprised nor bothered by it. Perfectly acceptable. And, let’s be honest here: the place sits right on the friggin’ water. If you’re concentrating on the dining area, you’re missing the premise. Look out the window, Dieter! Gorgeous views of the bay are right there to be had.
Let’s talk beer selection, since we enjoy a good brew. In a theme that ran throughout our visit, The Dutchman is a brauhaus that knows what a brauhaus is supposed to supply: good German beer. Not a wide selection of the latest and greatest craft brews that are over-hopping their IPAs to the point of silliness. They serve Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbrau; you really don’t need to go any further than that (although they do throw in a few others for good measure).
I have another theory about German restaurants: when ordering food, stick to the German items on the menu. Chances are, the German food will be better than the rest of the menu. And at The Dutchman, my theory held during our dining experience. The conch fritters were more fritter than conch, but the pretzel appetizer was exactly what you would want: just enough crisp resistance on the outside (al dente, if you will), but nice and chewy once you bite down. Simple and delicious.
For our entrees, the theory held once again. The crabcakes that Lisa had were perfectly serviceable – just fine, thank you. But nothing really stood out with them. As for my main dish, though…well, that’s another story altogether. Placed in front of me were a pair of inviting smoked pork chops, along with a side of spaetzle. The chops had a flavor that was more in line with a country ham than a plain ol’ pork chop. And the spaetzle, the dumpling that thinks it’s pasta, was satisfyingly light and filling. Sounds like a contradiction, but the texture was fluffy and at the same time, with the brown gravy, went down as comfortably as pulling on a warm sweater.
After dinner, Robert took us for a walk around the outside of the restaurant. As we walked on a small bridge, he pointed out this rather large shellpile coming out of the water and spread out underneath the restaurant. The shellpile dates back to when the restaurant opened. When they used to shuck the oysters and clams, they just threw the shells out the window. Over the years, this impressive mountain peak of shells, like an active volcano at the bottom of the sea, sprouted up and is now a fixture in the lore of the brauhaus.
Past the shellpile and over to The Quelle we went. The Quelle is the outdoor dining/bar area which puts you even further out over the water. It is a delightful place to sit on a sunny and warm afternoon or evening, with just you and the sounds of the water – well, and several other people enjoying the same thing.
Up the stairs we headed to the newest creation at The Dutchman, called interestingly enough The Upstairs. What used to be part of the house where the Schmid family lived is now a bar and showcase for live music. On stage was a local reggae band, and on tap was Radeberger and Pabst Blue Ribbon – an homage to what their grandfather had on tap when the restaurant first opened. Robert informed us that they, meaning him and his brothers, had built the stage themselves. And that fact didn’t surprise me one bit. All throughout our time at The Dutchman that night, I could not help but feel the connection that the Brothers Schmid had with the restaurant. And as we nursed our beers and moved to the beat of the music, I thought to myself that there were certainly many worse ways we could be spending our evening.
There’s probably a school of thought that says food critics should keep and arm’s length distance from the chef and/or restaurant owner for fear of compromising one’s objectivity. Well, since I’m not a food critic, I don’t have to get bogged down in that kind of thinking. There’s an endearing quality to the Schmids that makes The Dutchman a fun place to enjoy. They know who they are, and the restaurant reflects that. To be honest, I prefer that to a restaurant that tries to be something they are not.
The Dutchman’s Brauhaus – 2500 East Bay Avenue (Cedar Bonnet Island), Manahawkin. 609.494.6910.
And don’t forget they are having their Oktoberfest specials on Thursdays through October 11!