Hoffbrau

I stopped in for lunch on a hot afternoon. Well past the usual lunch crowd time. Two tired waitresses were working in the afternoon heat.

The Hoffbrau’s history is clouded with myth – and it involves deception, corporate theft and the ability to endure. Same restaurant, same location, same family, since 1934.

There was a chain, and I thought about that chain, as I understand it, the chain with the same name has long since expanded and folded, although, at one time, the chain used the exact same recipe for success, and the same recipe for the food.

The Hoffbrau (Austin, West 6th Street) – the original – is a steak house. Steaks are grilled with lemon-butter. About half a potato is sliced and deep-fried, truly steak fries. Salad is a single serving of lettuce, drenched with an oily vinegar solution. Two slices of bread, two pats of butter. Simple. Straightforward. Unquestioning. So when I encountered this in the first of what was to be a chain, I was pleased. It was “just like in Austin.”

The theft and corporate deception was to open a chain with the same name, franchise, get rich, then diversify the menu. As I understand it, some decades later, the chain collapsed upon itself. Tried to expand the menu to serve more healthy material, like chicken, and salads that weren’t drenched in dressing. I don’t know what happened. One day the chain stores were there, the next time I looked, they had all been replaced with another chain of some sort.

The original Hoffbrau, it’s certainly still there. I would have to consider it delicate comfort food, not a dietary staple, as it’s still just steak, fries, and that salad soaked in dressing. What I didn’t recall was the way salad dressing had a little bit of a ping to it, like Rudy’s BBQ sauce, just enough of a pepper bite to be interesting. I couldn’t tell if it was pepper, onion juice, or garlic, perhaps it was combination of all three. I slowly savored the salad. The ice tea was cold. The steak came in two flavors, that afternoon, and most afternoons are like this: sirloin or T-bone. That’s it.

I was pondering these choices, the simplest of solutions. Almost a binary decision. Simple, easy, not a lot of choice.

Imitated, which, I’m sure, at one time was a sore point, so I didn’t bother to find out, but then, imitation is flattery, in a weird way.

So while I was in the original Hoffbrau on Austin’s West Sixth Street, I was thinking about their way of doing business. Do one thing well. Do it right. Keep it simple. And if the customer doesn’t want a slab of beef, cooked in butter? With part of potato, fried? And if that salad is too greasy, or otherwise unappealing? Go some place else.

But what they do, they do very, very well. From the delicate seasonings in the salad dressing, to the fine spray of lemon juice as the steak sizzle on the grill, to the way the potatoes come out with a deep-fried tender goodness. Two choices for lunch that afternoon, T-bone or sirloin.

I watched as a road crew came in for a late lunch, guys who were working out-of-doors. First guy through the door, he just plopped down, “Three T-Bones, one medium, one medium, one medium rare. Tea. Three. They’ll be here in a minute, and I’m thirsty.”

I sawed my way through a T-bone, I’d asked for a little on the rare side of medium rare. Perfect. The flavor for the beef itself was exquisite.

Looking over the bar, I realized where I’d swiped a sign’s slogan from, one that’s rolling up in a scope sooner or later.

What I was pondering, this whole message is dedicated to one thought process, and it’s a process that doesn’t include beef. It’s about a plan. A business plan. Do one thing well. Put everything into doing one thing well. One size does not fit all, but fit the action, that thing, to what can be done properly, with good tastes, and, in a word, well.

Instead of trying to be all things to all people, turn out a single menu item, and do a good job with that. One thing, done correctly.

When I compare price and quality, the only place that I can find a decent comparison to the strip of steak in Austin’s Hoffbrau? Paris. Not Paris, Texas, but Paris, France. Renowned for inventing the steak and fries dish, and to be sure, they’ve been at it longer than we’ve been a colony, country or state, so some credit is due, and it’s been my experience that the simplest of parisian dishes, steak and fries, are about equal to what the Hoffbrau does.

So Paris (France) is a fading memory. Hoffbrau, Austin? That’s recent. And there’s no language barrier, either. Or funny currency conversions. Makes for a more frank dining experience.

Do one thing, and do it well.

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