Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden - A Traditional Czech Night Out

Cold, rainy and dark are three adjectives not usually associated with a Beer Garden, but there they were last night as I headed out to Astoria’s infamous Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden. I had made a promise to go as soon as I could since I had failed to make it out last season, and with a guarantee from my Czech friend for a truly traditional experience, I just couldn’t resist. We arrived while a slight drizzle fell from the sky and held onto false hopes that the rain would hold. Although I my friend informed me that Czech’s only drink from mugs, I ordered us a pitcher of Krusovice (a Czech lager) for economical reasons. The beer was dark amber in color with a surprisingly light and rich yeast flavor.

Matching their authentic beer selection was an authentic menu full of potatoes, pirogues and papricash. We started off by splitting a couple of pork kielbasas and a heaping plate of French fries. Literally bursting with flavor, these grilled foot-long beauties were served with two pieces of fresh rye bread and spicy, yellow mustard. The side of fries, however, were cold, soggy and looked like they’d been sitting out in the rain for quite awhile.

After packing away the kielbasas, we turned our attentions to ordering the main course. Although I suggested we order chicken schnitzel and fried cheese, my friend suggested we go the more traditional route, so I ordered the “Vepro, Knedlo, Zelo” (roast pork with sauerkraut and bread dumplings), while he ordered the Segedin Goulash (pork) and potatoes. As soon as our plates were served, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. In front of my friend were perfectly roasted potatoes, smothered in a thick stew, with pork morsels so tender, you simply had to breathe on them for them to fall apart. In front of me was a plate of plain pork, soggy sauerkraut and the driest bread dumplings I had ever seen. Glaring at my friend, I took my first bite and was greeted with a sensation that could only be descried as desert like. Dry, bland and packed with a consistency of spongy sand, I stared longingly at the plates of fried chicken and pork on the table next to ours. As my friend finished his plate with a mouthful of pork and huge gulp of beer, he seemed to finally notice my discontent.

He offered only a sheepish grin as I asked him, “Do you really like this stuff,” while pointing to my half eaten plate of food?

He coyly replied, “I usually like my dumplings made out of potatoes and not bread, cabbage instead of sauerkraut, and when it comes to pork, I liked it smoked and not roasted.”

“So why did you have me order this,” I asked?

“Well,” he started off, “I promised you a night of traditional Czech food and beer. And traditionally, Czech food is pretty bad.”

And before I could say anything else, he finished his drink, got up from the bench and went off to get the one thing that could fix my sour mood: a fresh pitcher of beer.

The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is located at 29-19 24th Avenue in Astoria, Queens.

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