The rhythmic beat of oom-pah music and the smell of cooking sausages filled the continental countryside rooms of Ludwig Bavarian Haus.
Porcelain steins imported from Germany decorated the walls, along with photographs of historic castles and paintings of the restaurant’s namesake, King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
From the kitchen, platters of sauerbraten and jaegerschnitzel are rushed to diners seated in cozy side rooms near one of five roaring fireplaces.
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In Ludwig Bavarian Haus, Ron and Denise Roberts have tried to re-create the atmosphere, cuisine and intimacy of traditional Germany. The Greenwood couple purchased and remodeled the former Steak and Ale restaurant off East Street, taking advantage of its Gothic and timber architecture lifted from classic German design.
The restaurant pays homage to the southside’s Teutonic heritage and brings to life the vivid flavor of Bavaria’s country cooking.
“The southside is the German side of town. A lot of people still have the German food and are curious about the food,” Chef Ron Roberts said. “German food is basic farm cooking. I love the stories that go with the food, why it is, what it is and how it became like that.”
Ludwig Bavarian Haus opened this year, the culmination of the Ron Roberts’ own development in German cuisine. For 10 years, he worked at the Edelweiss Restaurant, an authentic eatery run by the German American Klub of Indianapolis.
During his time there, he learned about the culinary traditions of Bavaria from club members with a deep German heritage. He listened to stories and recipes passed down over generations.
“It has to have a history to it. He’s not a nouvelle cuisine kind of guy,” said Denise Roberts, who helps with the restaurant after her full-time job as a journalism teacher at Greenwood Community High School.
Owning a restaurant was something that had been on Ron Roberts mind for a while. He had looked into some locations and concepts, but the situation never seemed right to leap into such a financial commitment.
Still, the Steak and Ale building, which had transitioned to another restaurant before closing in 2011, was an ideal investment.
“(Denise) always asked me if I thought it was time to open my own restaurant. With the economy, some restaurants came available that had failed, but I didn’t want to do it,” Ron Roberts said. “When this building came available a year ago, we just couldn’t say no.”
The restaurant is broken up in to specific themes and decor styles.
One room is dedicated entirely to Ludwig II, who was well-regarded for his support of architecture and art in 19th-century Bavaria.
In the bar, the look skews toward Ludwig’s traditional hunting club, with its dark wood beams and a buck’s head mounted on the wall.
The castle room is decorated with fairy-tale quality palaces, including Bavaria’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle. Since the Robertses are heavily involved in German shepherd training, they have set aside another section in honor of the iconic dogs.
“We matched the cuisine to the building, but I already had this cuisine ready. There couldn’t be a better building in the city for what we were doing,” Ron Roberts said.
The Robertses have tried to maintain other traditions as well.
The classic Steak and Ale salad bar has been restored and is fully stocked every day.
With the help of a former Steak and Ale manager, they uncovered hidden pewter plates and wooden salt-and-pepper shakers that were trademarks of the eatery.
“This building has so many memories. I don’t know how many people have come in and talked about having their rehearsal dinner here or proposing to their wife here, coming here before prom,” Denise Roberts said. “It’s a memory thing.”
The menu is a mix of classic German and modern steakhouse fare.
All of the sausages and pork chops are made in the traditional style by Claus’ German Sausage and Meat on the southside.
The cordon bleu schnitzel combines a center cut pork loin with cured ham and Swiss cheese. The whole concoction is breaded, sautéed and topped with a rosemary cream sauce.
Ludwig rouladen is a mixture of bacon, onions, mustard and pickles wrapped in thinly sliced beef, sautéed and then slow braised to make its own gravy.
The sauerbraten is beef marinated in a special spice blend and slow-roasted, creating a sweet-and-sour flavor.
“Sauerbraten is a dish that a lot of people have had, and it’s not always made correctly,” he said. “It’s hard to find prepared as people remember it.”
At the same time, a New York strip, fish and chips and char-grilled chicken breast are all prominent offerings.
The restaurant opened in early October, though aspects of it are still coming together. It only recently started serving lunch, and the decor remains a fluid project.
Denise Roberts has remained dedicated to ensuring all of the wall decorations are authentically German. Some have been donated by former clients at the German American Klub. Others have come from eBay or vintage stores.
“It’s a growing process, whether it’s equipment or personal, all the way down to the operation of the whole restaurant,” Ron Roberts said. “We’re sinking every bit of money into getting everything right.”
Ludwig Bavarian Haus
Owners: Ron and Denise Roberts of Greenwood
Location: 4302 S. East St., Indianapolis
Style: Classic German cuisine
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, with full buffet option