Plaza Hof Brau: You Had Me at Hof

I’ve been threatening to write about the Hof Brau for months now, ever since the Mrs. and I moved into the DPM (Del Paso Manor) in fact.  So let’s just get this out in the open to start the conversation:  I love the Hof Brau, totally, completely, unconditionally.  There is not one thing I would change about the culinary and cultural timewarp that is Plaza Hof Brau.  Sure, it’s not a place you go on a first date or a place you take clients to when you’re trying to show them the town, but when you’re in the mood for a gut-filling meal with a side of pickles, you can’t ask for a better place. Being a child whose parents and grandparents frequented the ‘Brau, I am often amazed when I talk to Sacramento natives who have never been.  To me, never having been to the Hof Brau is on par with never having been to the Zoo, or the Nut Tree, or Funderland, or school.  It’s just part of the landscape, the intricately woven tapestry that is life in Sacramento (the only difference is that this part of the tapestry is covered in gravy). 

So, you’ve never been to the Hof Brau?  Fine.  Let’s start out by checking you for telltale signs of coming from another planet.  Ok, once the Area 51 exam is over I’ll tell you what you need to know.

The words Hof Brau come to us from the German, “hof” meaning meat, and “brau” meaning appealing to steel workers of the Great Lakes region.  Our local Hof Brau is very similar to the original prototypes of the teens and twenties, velvet wall-paper, brass railings and Midwestern beers on tap.  Most people I know younger than 70 shy away from the place and actually are a little frightened by the meat in the window.
Yet, there’s a little bit of Scranton, of Chicago, of Milwaukee in all of us. A touch of Polish iron worker, Irish meat packer, and Finnish cooper hides behind our elegantly structured veneers of Kenneth Cole shoes, Kate Spade purses and animal print cell phones.  We get hungry for the salt of the earth, thirsty for Pabst Blue Ribbon.  We crave rare meat, we lust after 1971 Chevy Novas, we ache to wear coveralls.  It’s ok, it really is.  You can come out of the societal closet.  We’re Americans and we know who our forefathers were.  That being said, let’s talk about serious eating.

All meals at the ‘Brau are served cafeteria style.  Your first choice when you walk in is what kind of meal you want.  Specials range from Mac ‘n’ Cheese to Stroganoff to Bavarian Chicken to Chicken a la King.  Most people, however, go for a sandwich.  First, select which meat you want, beef or turkey.  I feel you can’t go wrong with the French dip, but if you’re morally opposed to beef, the turkey won’t be a disappointment.  When ordering a sandwich, you will undoubtedly be asked the question, “Do you want that dipped?”  No matter what you ordered or how you like it served, the answer to that question is always, “YES!”  Having half of your sandwich soaked in au jus is too rare an experience to pass up.  Your choice of sides includes mashed potatoes, or turkey dressing, or potato salad, or macaroni salad, or jello salad, or 40w Penzoil salad.  Please note, all sides are served appropriately with an ice cream scooper.  I suggest the dressing, but the potatoes are pretty good as well.  Behind the cafeteria counter are literally 50 people who will shuttle your food choices through for you.  Make sure to tell them that you want the brown gravy or they will try to pawn that pale turkey gravy off on you.  You can opt for a dessert at the register, berry pie, chocolate pie, lemon pie, banana cream pie, but the best is pumpkin pie.  I don’t care if it’s the middle of summer and the sidewalks are melting, you’ll absolutely love the pumpkin pie.  That’s it.  You’re done.  Pay at the register and enjoy your feast.

Oh wait, what am I saying, you haven’t hit the bar yet.  The bar at the Plaza Hof Brau is incredible, dirt cheap prices and friendly service, root beer on tap for the teetotallers and Lowenbrau on tap for those in the know.  You’ll invariably wind up sitting next to a maintenance man from the bowling alley next door, and when asking him how things are going at the lanes, he’ll tell you about wax to grit ratios and slide shoe over under wood flexibility even though you were just asking how his day is.  It’s absolutely delightful.

Keeping all this in mind, the Hof Brau may not be for everyone.  If you have an irrational fear of hair nets or a violent allergy to lima bean casserole, you may want to hit the bowling alley while we eat.  But eating is only half of the reason to go the Plaza Hof Brau.  It’s a cultural experience.  You have to go for the murals of Rubenesque ladies in petticoats riding ridiculously oversized turn-of-the-century bicycles.  You have to go for the 100 year old photos of Sacramento streets decorating the walls.  You have to go to listen to people discuss that day’s installment of the Rush Limbaugh program.  Honestly, getting the chance to watch people digest macaroni and cheese casserole and ham hocks is like seeing Haley’s comet.  You have to take advantage of that.

So, you convinced yet?  You still don’t want to go?  Fine, I’ve got this great place in Roswell that I can recommend, give me a call and I’ll give you directions.

Plaza Hof Brau- Corner of Watt & El Camino

Food***1/2 Atmosphere**** Service***

20 thoughts on “Plaza Hof Brau: You Had Me at Hof”

  1. There’s a restaurant in San Diego like this called the San Diego Chicken Pie Shop. It costs $5 for an entire meal and most of the clientele is in their 80s. My grandparents used to take me there when I was a kid and it only cost $1.50. Really good chicken pies, kinda gross jello, and water served in a paper cup.


  2. I whole-heartedly applaud the Lowenbrau on tap.

    Readers may not know that the Lowenbrau of today is a quality German marzen. Up until 2002, the product in the US was brewed by Miller and was vastly inferior.

    Toniiiiiiiiiiight. Toniiiiiiiiiiiiight.
    Let it be Lowenbrau.


  3. sac-eats, if i recall correctly the last meal you and i ate together was at Plaza Hof Brau. i believe the last meal i ate with Stickie was at a taco shop in West Sac. i hope it doesn’t depress people that sac-eats and Stickie are 2 of my oldest friends and i haven’t seen them for reals in like 2 years. sigh.

    The Hof is also a good family restaurant because the walking-in-to-eating time is so short.


  4. I heard recently that there is a new pie place in Sac that is totally awesome. Dessert Pies and Savory Pies. Does any one know what I am talking about? If so…can you expound??


  5. I’ve been going to “Da Hof” since about 1967 having grown up less then a mile away. I can tell you it hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. I even think the tall asain ‘chef’ is one of the originals or certainly a relative.

    My only gripe with the Hof Brau is that it is a bit on the expensive side for a lunch. A lunch with a main course, side and drink will set you back about $11.


  6. How funny I came across this tonight. My husband just said let’s go to Sams. (If only we still had Merlinos to finish it off during the summer) We are usually the youngest by about 35 years, but that is what makes it so fun. It amazes me how many people who grew up here don’t know about this place. I have been going here since before I had teeth to eat the heavyweight roast beef, mashed potatoes, stuffing and of course the serve yourself pickles. As a kid I loved going to the bar and ordering a rootbeer on tap. Great article that I will print out and keep for when all the “aliens” in my life say “Sams, what’s that?”


  7. The Hof Brau is terrific, even without the “Sam’s” name…it is also the only hold out of the Sam’s Hof Brau local empire, including locations at J and Seventeenth (now Hamburger Mary’s) and Eighth and L (now 815 L Street, there is still a Sam’s Hof Brau sign on the side of the building) and of course Sam’s Town up Highway 50.

    That whole corner was like a miniature downtown in the early 90s: the Hof Brau, World’s Best Comics, two used record stores plus the Tower complex and Tower Outlet, the Candle Rock Lounge (home of Club Gnaw, the gothic/industrial nightclub that the local scene has tried to emulate, mostly unsuccessfully, for 15 years) and two 24 hour restaurants. It was even reachable by public transit–quite the spot, for the suburbs.


  8. Uhmmm…lima bean casserole….yummy! I grew up in the Midwest, and that was the BEST!

    Hey, don’t hurt me, but I gotta ask…can you get take out if you wanted? Not that I would, of course…

    Always had Pabst, although I was much too young to imbibe. At that time, Coors was considered VERY exotic!



  9. Yes, you can get take-out. I grab lunch for everyone at my office once in awhile. The line may seem ominous, but as mentioned in the review, they are effecient and the line moves fairly fast.

    I miss Sam’s Town. I pass through there a couple of times a week to get to a client’s home and it always bums me out. I had spent many great moments of my life there playing air hockey and pinball and buying lots of candy from the old style mercantile.


  10. I came to Sac. in 1956 through the Air Force and we quickly learned about the original Sams. I didn’t see anyone mention the big one on Broadway as the original I believe. The one on J Street and Sam’s Town on hiway 50 later on. All gone now but The Hof Brau thankfull is carring on the faithful tradition. After twenty years in Sacramento, I now live in Southern Cal. but everytime I come to Sacramento the Hof Brau is a must as I have been doing it for fifty one years now. Their dipped Pastrami is the best.


  11. Let’s see if my rusty memory has the facts right: The “Sams” restaurants (all great) were owned by the late Sam Gordon. It seems to me, however, that there was another Sams, which nobody seems to recall. It was on Fair Oaks, in front of the Dante Club, where a car wash is now located. The specialty was an “all you can eat” prime rib buffet. Can’t remember how much it cost. We were then living in the Bay Area, but to and from Tahoe, we’d stop for dinner at Sams–in the 1960’s.


  12. in my faulty memory, the only thing I can remember at that spot is a green grocer’s stand that was run by Joe Gariagiola. Come to think of it, maybe that was the dream I had last night.


  13. About 1957, an upscale Italian restaurant opened on Fair Oaks Boulevard: Villa d’Italia. Dinners cost @$6, so it didn’t last long. Sam Gordon took it over, and as Sam’s Rancho Villa, the $2.95 buffet was a hit! However, it was not in front of the Dante Club – it was where Ettore’s is now. The green grocer’s market (which was in front of the Dante Club) was Aki’s Ranch Market.


  14. The one on Broadway was called Sam’s Ranch Wagon, and was a place six year old kids (like me at the time) were welcome in their full cowboy regalia for some good ol’ western chow. (I prefered Merle’s Trails, but the family liked Sam’s) It later became the China Wagon, a chinese buffet and punk-rock venue (I crap you negative). Now I believe it’s a non-Andy Nguyen Vietnamese joint. Sam was the Parygary of his day. So he’s probably roasting in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.


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