Schatzi: I took German in high school, and as a treat at the end of our first year, our teacher—the Frau, as we called her—took us on an excursion to Der Rheinlander for a German dinner.
We enjoyed ourselves enormously, both due to the food and the strolling minstrels clad in German folk costume who played the Chicken Dance and various songs we had learned in class. I’m not sure it’s still the same in there, though, because the last time I entered the building at NE Sandy & 50th, I saw servers in black trousers and white shirts. That would be a shame, since the convivial atmosphere was a large part of the fun, and the costumes made quite the impression upon us (I even returned the following year to borrow some of those costumes for a play—yes, I have worn lederhosen from Der Rheinlander).
I never set foot on the Gustav’s side until many years later, on a date with an ungentlemanly character who confessed to taking many dates there. It’s easy to see why since the (usually) dim lighting and deep booths lend a fair amount of privacy considering the number of tables in a relatively small place; even when crowded it seems hushed. We returned numerous times to the Sandy location, and to the one at Washington Square. Since then, I’ve returned with various friends, mostly for the Happy Hour.
And now we come to the crux of the matter: the Gustav’s Happy Hour. From 3 til 6pm daily, and again from 9pm til close weeknights, and 10pm til close Fridays and Saturdays, Gustav’s hosts a happy hour. If you go at busier times, like weekends, you’ll find the place crowded with an influx of suburban yuppie types out from the hinterlands (though there are locations in Clackamas, Tigard, and Vancouver, so this puzzles me). Weeknights, however, are fairly uncrowded, and a good deal if you’re on that side of town.
The star of Gustav’s (for me, at least) is the beer and cocktail list. I never bother with wine when I’m there because there are such great options elsewhere. The standard beers are a selection of imports and domestic craft beers, with options like Spaten Optimater, Konig Ludwig Weiss, etc etc etc. They also have margaritas made with fresh fruit purees, as well as a number of weather-appropriate seasonal cocktails. But hands down, one of my favorite aspects of the Gustav’s HH is that the drink minimum is emphatically $2.25, including teetotalers and the underaged who don’t wish for any more indulgence than soda, hot tea, or a raspberry lemonade (theirs has fresh raspberries in it—not too shabby).
Now for others, it’s the fondue that they come for. A large pot of melted Swiss cheese that comes with cubed dark, a light, and white breads. You can opt for bier sausages to dip as well, but they’re unnecessary. It’s not the best fondue in Portland (hello, Berlin Inn), but it’s great for $4.99. And they will happily bring you more bread should you run out before your cheesy goo is finished—at no charge. It’s that sort of thoughtfulness, combined with usually excellent service that helps make Gustav’s a pleasant standby. The fondue is the most “German” thin gon the Happy Hour menu; if you want German food, I suggest dinner at Gustav’s or Der Rheinlander, or visiting the Berlin Inn. As for other Happy Hour meals, the Caesar salad has a nice, tangy dressing, and they don’t glop it on. You can also order the Caesar with chicken schnitzel strips for a little protein, which is what I invariably do because I cannot resist those schnitzel strips (2.99, plus 1.99 for chicken).
That brings me to the chicken schnitzel strips—on their own or with fries—and accompanied by pineapple curry mustard and ginger soy dipping sauce. Despite the prosaic name, I cannot get enough of the ginger-soy dipping sauce, and will slather it on fries or chicken schnitzel strips—and they will gladly substitute the mustard for more dipping sauce despite the No Substitutions written on the menu (3.99, plus 0.99 for fries). Also notable is the Happy Shepherd’s Pie, apparently made with bits of leftover rotisserie meats, so probably not fish-fowl friendly, but a complete meal for one as it comes with a side Caesar (4.99). Cod Fish & Chips are flaky on the outside and soft and moist in the middle, as they should be (4.99).
Not everything wins, however. The Rosemary-Garlic Cheese Bread is nastily cheesy, smothered with melted cheese over a layer of garlic cheese spread; with a much higher bread to goo ratio it might not make me gag, but as it is, it’s not worth your $1.99. The Sausage on a Bun offers your choice of brat, weiss, or bierwurst, but the sausage is a bit greasy, while it comes dry on the hoagie roll; the addition of grilled onions and kraut as in the Sausage Duo might make it more palatable (3.99 and 3.49, respectively). Elisha: The burger is a 1/3-pound of beef with Tillamook Cheddar, marinated onions, and a hamburger sauce served on a Kaiser bun. Even with the “hamburger sauce” it was a little dry, but definitely worth 3.99 with the option of adding bacon for 1.00 and fries for 0.99.
Recently Gustav’s revamped their Happy Hour menu with the addition of a Bavarian Pretzel, Potato-Habanero Croquettes, Reuben Pie, a smaller version of their fondue, herbed chicken skewers, and Pasta Alfredo. The Potato-Habanero Croquettes are served with an herb aioli and tomato concasse, and are pretty good and not as spicy-hot as the name implies for the wimps out there. Think mashed potatoes mixed with a touch of habaneras, breaded, and deep-fried.
Schatzi: Is Gustav’s worth it? I think so. My little sister is addicted to it. Out-of-towners always enjoy themselves. The staff is friendly and helpful, the prices are pretty low, and the food is not bad considering how inexpensive it can be. It’s a nice place to pick up a bite after a weeknight playing trivia or seeing a movie.