One of the reasons we started this blog was to highlight the wide variety of restaurants available in the Central Florida area. There are many unknown gems hidden all over the greater Orlando area, that stand out and defy what you would expect to find based on their location. To me, the king of this category of restaurant is Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe. Great German food, German beer, and German music, all in the middle of historic Sanford.
First opened in 2001 by Theo Hollerbach, the Willow Tree Cafe has grown into a sort of poorly kept secret. Many people you speak to have never heard of it, but you will need reservations weeks in advance to get in on Thursday-Sunday evenings. Reservations can only be made by calling in and speaking to the women in charge, so no OpenTable here. Trust me, it’s worth the slight bit of effort this takes.
As mentioned above, you’re going to want to plan your visit for an evening between Thursday and Sunday, because on these nights you are treated to German style music, with accordions, tubas, and a variety of other instruments, all from two performers. As the night goes on (and the beer flows freely), the music will add to the party environment. Quite often toasts will be met with raised glasses all around and a round of, “Zicke zacke zicke zacke hoi hoi hoi!”
The beer list isn’t long, but still manages to cover enough bases to be varied enough to meet any personal tastes. The evening we went, I ordered the Spaten Oktoberfest, a smooth amber lager, which is the kind of beer you can normally only find seasonally, but is served year round at the Willow Tree Cafe. A hoppy start makes way for a full bodied finish, and would be reason enough for me to be a frequent guest here. The sizes come in metric, so your options are 0.3 liters, 0.5 liters, and 1 liter. Pictured here is the 1 liter (naturally).
You can also order one of their famous boots of beer. These come in 2 and 3 liter sizes. However, as a warning this should only be attempted in a group. When ordering the boot, the general rule is everyone at the table stands, passes the boot around the table, and only sits when the boot is empty. You’ll likely see at least a couple boots ordered when you’re there, and they’re hard to miss as the band plays a special song I have to assume is called, “Beer Drinkin’” based off the lyrics, until the boot is finished. When we went this time, a 3 liter boot was ordered by a group of German retirees who were partying harder than I think I can. Apparently I have yet to reach my beer drinking potential.
For an appetizer we ordered the pretzel, which could easily serve a table of 4. Crispy crust on the outside and a soft warm middle, with sides of house made mustard and seasoned butter, it is worth sharing, even if you’ll want to horde the entire plate yourself.
Kaiser Wurst Teller
For my entree I find it hard to stay away from the sausage platter. You can order 2, 3, or 4 sausage choices with 2 or 3 sides. The sausages you can choose from are bratwurst, knockwurst, weisswurst, mettwurst, and the Nürnberger, the last of which is the most heavily seasoned. This visit, I ordered the bratwurst (mildly seasoned pork sausage), mettwurst (smoked bratwurst of beef and pork), and the Nürnberger (well seasoned pork sausage). Not a lot to say about them, other than they are all consistently delicious and reheat well the following day. What can I say? They’re all exceptionally well made sausages. Side dishes pictured above are potato pancakes, red cabbage, and Spätzle (an egg noodle) with gravy.
We were too full to order dessert (this happens here often) but if you manage to save room, they make a variety of cakes daily which are to die for. However, be warned, they make them early in the day, and when they are gone they don’t replace them. When they’re gone, they’re gone.