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Hophead: Prost In Plano

A liter a day keeps the doctor away. --Old German proverb (at least according to the Bavarian Grill's Stein Hour menu)

Along with a handful of other local eateries, the Bavarian Grill in Plano is in the running for GermanDeli.com's designation as The Best German Restaurant in America.

Kuby's may have great sausage, Jorg's Cafe Vienna may have delicious schnitzel and Edelweiss may boast its patronage of such celebrities as John Wayne and, umm, Mark Davis. But thanks to its dedication to beer, Bavarian Grill has the Hophead vote--despite the accordionist's stab at "Smoke On The Water."

Things didn't start off so promising, though, thanks to a waitress and a beer menu that both proved less than helpful.

After a traffic-clogged trip north on Central and difficulty locating the Grill in a strip mall the size of Poland, we managed to arrive by 6:45 p.m., just catching the tail end of Stein Hour.

A friendly hostess seated in the restaurant area, where an accordion player was about to take the stage, only to inform us that the happy hour was only in effect in the biergarten. As much as we were looking forward to Alan Walling's take on the "Chicken Dance," we bolted to the biergarten and slipped in orders for eine frikadelle and a cup of goulash just before 7 p.m. to catch the happy hour price of 95 cents apiece.

The beer (bier, that is) list is simply divided into two columns, Hell (light) and Dunkel (dark). No prices, no descriptions, no serving sizes and, unless you read German, no way to discern draft from bottled choices. When Lady Hophead asked our waitress for a recommendation, the server simply named two beers before admitting that she didn't drink beer herself and had no idea how to describe them.

We refrained from suggesting a career change and simply chose a Hacker-Pschorr hefeweizen and Kostritzer Schwarzbier. Both arrived in half-liter glasses. While it was refreshing after a hot day, the hefe tasted thinner and less flavorful than expected, with banana, clove and yeast notes barely announcing their presence. The same could be said for the schwarzbier, with roasted malts giving a meek "guten tag" before disappearing.

But subsequent rounds more than made up for these initial disappointments. Weihenstephaner Weissbock Vitus was simply awesome, even though it was not the dark beer our ill-informed waitress claimed it would be. Cloudy and straw-colored, it poured a big foamy head that emitted the fruity nose I'd expected from the earlier hefe--and packed much more of a kick, at 7.7 percent ABV.

The dark brown Ayinger Celebrator doppelbock proved why it's a benchmark of the style, with a snootful of candied fruit giving way to sweet-but-not-too-sweet dark malts, caramel and molasses taste. Absolutely fantastic. No wonder Lady Hophead is still rocking the little plastic goat charm that came with the bottle on her keychain. Both beers brought out the best in our shared entree of rinder rouladen and cheesy roasted potatoes.

We pondered the dessert menu for a moment and concluded that sharing a final beer would be a better use of our funds.

Naturally.

The waitress let us know that the gentlemen at the other end of our picnic table--the same ones who incessantly cracked each other up by singing the guitar riff to "Smoke On The Water"--had loved the Hopfen Weisse, a trans-Atlantic collaboration between Schneider Weissbier and Brooklyn Brewery. We weren't sure, but when they got up to request guess-which-song from the accordionist, we grabbed their empty bottle and took a whiff. Sold.

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It's intriguing: a strange yet natural hybrid of IPA citrus hoppiness with the candied fig and raisin sweetness of a great Belgian ale and the refreshing pale malts, banana and yeast flavors of a good hefe. Caramel-sweet but not syrupy, it had a faint alcohol warmth, though not what you'd expect from something packing an 8.2 ABV, and a lively carbonation.

It was one of the most exciting beers I've had lately, and Lady Hophead loved it just as much.

Despite sharing an entree and getting our apps at happy hour prices, our bill still came to more than $60. The half-liter of Hopfen Weisse alone was $8.50--no wonder the prices aren't listed. But we'll be back--hopefully before the Bavarian Grill's planned victory party in October. Sure, they've got my vote.

But maybe they ought to ask a certain fellow German-American how great an idea it is to plan the celebration before clinching the win.

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