IN GOOD TASTE:
Maybe you've never dined at a German restaurant before, but without realizing it you've been eating German dishes all your life.
"If you go back to the roots of it (German cuisine), it's everywhere," said Peter Bolter, chef and sole owner of Kaiserhof Restaurant & Biergarten in Ocean Beach . "What's a hotdog? What's a hamburger?"
German, that's what.
So are Rostbraten (a beef dish) and Schweinshaxe (pork shank) and Kasehanchen (a chicken breast dish), and any of the other popular items on the menu at Kaiserhof, which has been a fixture in OB for 35 years.
With its combination of authentic German dishes, familiar American entrees such as steak and salmon, and an outdoor beer garden specializing in brews that you won't find at the store or your neighborhood craft-beer hangout, Kaiserhof attracts customers from as far away as Los Angeles.
As it is, it's not like San Diego is inundated with eateries that serve schnitzels and Sauerbraten.
"There are not that many German restaurants in town," said Bolter, a first-generation German whose parents, Horst and Paula, opened their first restaurant in New Jersey before moving to San Diego in 1979 and originally serving customers at a pre-OB Mission Valley location. "Because we are one of the few, we service a large market. We have some people who come every day, people who come once a week, people who drive from North County, people who come down from L.A.
"We have people who have traveled to Germany, people whose parents were German, people who were in the military who were exposed to German food. There are definitely all those people who came when they were little and they bring their own kids here now."
Most of Bolter's recipes, he said, "come from my father, who was trained classically in Germany."
The entrees at Kaiserhof, most priced between $25 and $30, include beef, chicken, pork and veal dishes, plus seafood entrees and, of course, a variety of sausages. There are also a couple of meatless offerings on the menu. Hot entrees are served with soup or salad and a choice of two side dishes, which include the likes of spatzle (egg noodles), sauerkraut and potato pancakes.
"We have a good product here," said Bolter. "We try to keep our menu authentic."
Among the most popular dishes, he said, are Wienerschnitzel, sauerbraten and Jagerschnitzel. It's hearty food and perhaps not what you'd automatically associate with "the summery neighborhood we're in, where they eat light food," said Bolter.
But Ocean Beach embraced Kaiserhof decades ago, and when locals aren't coming in for the food, they're doing so for the beer.
"We have two kinds of atmospheres," Bolter said. "We have our beer garden, which is a little more casual, and in the restaurant we have tablecloths and it's a little more formal. You can dine in either one."
For those patronizing the beer garden, there's a separate menu serving items generally under $15.
"We have a lot of people who come here just for the beers," said Bolter. "There are so many local breweries that don't make the German-style beers. And the Germans have, for the most part, been very careful to keep their beer authentic."
Kaiserhof serves dinner nightly and offers lunch three days a week. The last of those three, Sundays, features a brunch menu. In addition to dishes like Rolled German Pancakes and Kaiserschmarren (pancake pieces with walnuts and apples), you can enjoy eggs Benedict, poached salmon or a more traditional American breakfast. Brunch dishes are all under $20.
Bolter's staff numbers about 20, with some employees having been at Kaiserhof for more than two decades. Two of the current servers are German speakers. Bolter himself can usually be found in the kitchen, and when he's not, he's probably busy managing the business.
"It's a lot of work and a lot of hours," he said, not sounding as if he were complaining. "It's complicated and sometimes overwhelming."
But the rewards are great, as when he does get to hear customers tell him that the food reminds them of that served to them by grandmothers or other venerated cooks in their families. "We get a lot of comments like that," he said.
The other place where you might find Chef Peter — when he's not being a chef, of course — is on San Diego Bay.
"I do a lot of sailing," Bolter said. "I have a sailboat at Harbor Island and we take lots of people out. My boat even has a big sail on it that says 'Kaiserhof.' "
No wonder, Bolter added, that he's been asked a few times whether it's a party boat for rent. It's not. But the party's going on at Kaiserhof in OB, where everything from pretzels to schnitzels to beer makes everyone there feel German for the day.
— Kaiserhof Restaurant & Biergarten is open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday; Happy Hour 4-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday at 2253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., San Diego. (619) 224-0606. kaiserhofrestaurant.com