Bayern Stube, a family-owned German restaurant in Gibson City, is just a short ride away from C-U. Since moving to the area a handful of years ago, it’s been suggested to me numerous times, from a variety of people. The stories recount heavy, German comfort food and an insane amount of taxidermy. Intrigued, I recently made the forty minute drive to the restaurant for dinner. Were the rumors true? Was it really good enough to drive over an hour on dark and deserted roads through the middle of nowhere?
The ride to Gibson City isn’t particularly difficult, but could feel daunting at night, especially this time of year. The restaurant is located in the downtown area of Gibson City; the small town, angled-parking-in-front-of-the-stores aesthetic was very quaint. There’s not much of a foyer once you enter the restaurant — you’re right among the tables. The front room is full of taxidermied animals: birds in flight, pensive deer, you’ll-be-sorry-you-killed-me boars. It’s a little unnerving. Other dining rooms are decorated with fewer dead animals, but plenty of tchotchkes and dolls and musical instruments to make you feel like you’re in the living room of a) your mildly insane [choose a relative], or b) that weird old lady down the street when you were a kid. Maybe both. It’s kind of like a Bavarian hunting lodge made love to that weird old lady’s living room, and the inside of the restaurant is the result. The décor is likely nostalgic for some, while for others it sort of feels like it’s something that someone thought patrons might think of when they think of “German.” But the décor is German, and part of the family’s history: the original owner’s father donated the game “trophies.” (The daughter and son-in-law now run the restaurant. You can read the brief history here.)
All of the waitresses wore dirndls, which at first glance seemed mildly cute, but the one young-ish man working the restaurant (manager, perhaps?) was in nice dress pants and a dress shirt. What’s up with that? Are there any male waiters? Do they wear lederhosen?
The menu is pretty extensive, and expensive. There are meats and meats and sausages. Perhaps it goes without saying, but this is not a place for vegetarians. Appetizers include pretzels ($6-$8), frog legs ($9), and cheese spätzle ($6). Entrées are $16 to $28, and all come with two sides. Beer and wine are available, too ($5.25 and up).
The waitress also brought out a basket with dark and white bread slices, served with a smoky sausage spread, which was very smoky. This appeared to be well liked at our table, but it wasn’t exactly my thing. It was a little like spreading whipped hot dog on my bread. The bread was tasty enough on its own.
We started with the soft pretzel ($6), served with a cheddar cheese sauce. The pretzel was quite large, and pretty tasty. It was soft and chewy, and not too dry. The cheddar cheese sauce was pretty much exactly what you’d expect: some neon yellow goo that may or may not be cheese product.
I opted for The Original Weinerschnitzel (pork, $16; veal, $18). I selected the veal schnitzel because, quite frankly, veal is so delicious if it’s prepared correctly. So tender and youthful, if you will. My meat was served with a wedge of lemon, which I think is almost always the best topping for a cutlet, save for tomato sauce and melty mozzarella. I chose the kraut and the spätzle as my sides. The schnitzel was amazing. The veal was tender and perfectly cooked. The breading was crispy. (Thank you, baby cow.) The kraut was also quite tasty. The cabbage was crunchy and briny and the addition of caraway seeds made it earthy. The spätzle, by contrast, was kind of terrible. The noodles were kind of cold, and had absolutely no flavor. I ended up eating them mixed in with the kraut and side of demi glace (brown sauce).
The hubby ordered the Schweinekoteletts Wilhelmina ($16): two pan-seared, boneless pork chops topped with mushrooms, shredded Swiss cheese, and a demi glace. He selected the mashed potatoes and the vegetable medley as his sides. The pork chops were fine enough, and the demi glace was tasty. The sides were terrible. The mashed potatoes were gummy and the formerly frozen or canned vegetable medley was tragic.
A friend ordered the Himmel und Hölle ($21), served with four different sausages, kraut, red cabbage, and potatoes (diner’s choice). The sausages were all pretty great. The smoky link was indeed smoky, the Thüringer bratwurst (grilled) was my favorite, and the Bavarian bratwurst was also delicious. My friend and I agreed that the Weisswurst, a boiled sausage, was a strange and undesirable texture, but the flavors were good. The red cabbage was crunchy and sweet and really quite delicious.
Another friend ordered the Prinz von Preussen ($28), a whopper of a platter featuring three slices of schweinebraten (pork roast), pork schnitzel, one Weisswurst, a Thüringer bratwurst, red cabbage, kraut, and a choice of potatoes. It was a ridiculous amount of meat, and certainly enough food for two people. It was also a pretty “healthy” sampling of the menu, as there was just a little bit of everything. The hefty meat on the plate justified the hefty price tag, and if two people were to split this and an appetizer, I think there would still be a doggy bag.
At the end of our meal, our waitress came by with a dessert tray. It featured a variety of cakes, including cookie dough cheesecake, carrot cake, chocolate cake, lemon berry cake, and German chocolate cake. We selected a sweet potato and pumpkin tart (with ice cream, $6.25) to share. It was good — the potato/pumpkin filling wasn’t too sweet or too spiced, and the tart was flaky. The ice cream was basic, generic vanilla, and the whipped topping tasted like Cool Whip, not real whipped cream, which was a bummer.
While the food was hit or miss, the service and general atmosphere was generally a miss. Our waitress was distracted and appeared to want to be anywhere but in that restaurant, even though she was polite. I might feel the same about wearing a costume to work when the dudes (and lady bartender, I noticed on the way out) get to wear “real” clothes. Perhaps she was having a bad day, I don’t know. But the service was slow, and there were very few water refills (which was important, considering I was consuming my weekly sodium allotment).
I can’t say that I’d go out of my way for Bayern Stube in the future, except maybe for one of their thrice-yearly special events: Hunter’s Feast (late February to early March); Maifest (first and second weekend in May); and Oktoberfest (first four weekends in October). These special occasions see different menu items — including some game items during Hunter’s Feast — and the general festiveness might make it more of an experience. (Be sure to make reservations well in advance.) I found the restaurant to be too far, too expensive, and too unexceptional for a regular dinner outing. And there are only so many sausages one can and should eat a year. Four in one sitting? More than once a year? That just seems excessive, even to me. But alas, dear reader, I encourage you to form your own opinions. Go forth and eat the meats.
Bayern Stube is located at 209 N Sangamon Ave in Gibson City. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and for lunch on Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Reservations are strongly encouraged: (217) 784-8304. For more information about the special feasts, check out the restaurant’s website or its Facebook page.
All photos by Jessica Hammie.