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Meat and Beer
Growing up, I often found myself at the intersection of Shaw and 41 sandwiched in the family car between my two younger brothers. Uncomfortable and bored, my eyes often alighted upon the giant Silver Dollar Hofbrau sign that towers over that particular freeway offramp. Struck by the strangeness of the word "Hofbrau" and the gaudiness of the sign, I often asked myself, "What the Hell is a Hofbrau?"
As it turns out, the West Coast, Fresno included, is home to a unique version of the Hofbrau. While a German Hofbrau is known either an outdoor beer garden or brewery, our regional definition refers to a type of cuisine that is designed to be served with beer. Usually this "cuisine" consists of savory chunks of meat accompanied by side dishes served from a steam tray.
West Coast Hofbraus often began as bars or breweries like their German cousins, but as competition for clientele began heating up, they began serving complimentary snacks to attract costumers to their bar, developing into a west coast version of tapas. Today, beer and meat play equally important roles in a good Hofbrau.
While the Hofbrau heyday has long since passed, several traditional eateries are still around. Two often cited examples of a classic Hofbrau are Cole's P.E. Buffet in downtown Los Angeles and Lefty O'Doul's in San Francisco. The oldest and most notable in Fresno is the aptly named Old Fresno Hofbrau.
Sporting wall to wall wood paneling and a collection of Bavarian knick knacks that would make your grandmother jealous, the Old Fresno really lives up to its name: the place feels very, very old.
The food, served from behind a steam table, has a very traditional, hearty quality. At $7 the huge sandwiches are a great deal. They are stuffed with a hand carved meat of your choice (we opted to try turkey and tri-tip) and the buns are so huge they make any average bun look like wonder bread in comparison. The roasted meat plates go for $9 and are served with your choice of sides from the steam table and a salad. Included in the price tag for both meals are complimentary soft drinks.
The second essential element of a Hofbrau is the beer. The choice draft at the Old Fresno is Hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat beer which goes for $3.50 a pint. If this sounds a bit expensive, they also have a number of domestic beers on tap that go for $2.50 a pint.
The Old Fresno features live jazz on Monday nights and a happy hour from 3-7.
Old Fresno Hofbrau
2820 Tulare St