Oktoberfest celebrations may be winding down soon, but at the new Kardinal Hall beer garden on Preston Avenue, the festivities have just begun. After months of construction and Facebook teasers, Beer Run owners Josh Hunt and John Woodriff finally opened the doors of their German-inspired restaurant and bar next to Timbercreek Market in the old Coca-Cola building. Following a soft opening for friends and family on October 15, the team quietly launched on Thursday afternoon. By dinnertime, the enthusiastic hopheads behind the bar were busy pouring beers and mixing cocktails, and groups began filling the communal style tables with plates of Kielbasa sausages and Belgian fries.
“It’s exciting to be in this hub, a sort of beacon for the Midtown neighborhoods,” says General Manager Malcolm Dyson, a longtime friend of Hunt who helped conceptualize the idea behind Kardinal.
Inspired by beer gardens he’d frequented and worked for when he lived in Seattle, Dyson says he envisioned a place that embraced not only good grub and beer that even the snobbiest brew snobs may not be able to find elsewhere, but a sense of community. The long picnic tables in the dining room and on the patio were a deliberate choice—the idea is to foster a casual, shared environment.
“I saw a lot of group-oriented places in Seattle, and I wanted to bring some of that back here,” says Dyson.
The setup is a little different—no table service. So, as you walk in, the staff milling around in black Kardinal T-shirts encourage you to grab a beer at the bar, sit wherever you want and check out the food kiosk when you’re ready. And because it’s seat yourself, your group can switch tables as it expands without sending servers into a blind fury.
“We want people in here to be interacting with their surroundings instead of just holding out by themselves in the corner,” Dyson says.
Soccer is on the large TVs above the bar and around the dining room, ping pong tables are set up and ready to go in the back room, and Dyson says they plan to provide games like Jenga and a life-sized Connect Four board. But what he anticipates as Kardinal’s biggest draw is the bocce courts. A round will cost a couple bucks per person, but during these opening weeks access to the courts is free of charge.
So let’s talk about what you’ll be holding in your other hand while tossing the bocce balls.
With about two dozen drafts and another 15 bottles and cans, Kardinal’s bar features beers that Dyson says are a little outside the American norm. Sure, the list includes IPAs and a pumpkin ale for the fall, but you’ll also see more lagers and pilsners than you may be used to finding, such as the Schlenkerla Helles, a smoky “twist” on Bavarian Helles lager and the Alvinne Cuvee Freddy, a wine barrel-aged dark sour ale from Belgium. The drink menu also includes red and white wines, a couple of ciders, cocktails and boilermakers.
As for the food, longtime Charlottesville chef Thomas Leroy is behind the extensive menu. Appetizers include staples such as house-made pickles and pretzels with dark mustard, plus items such as the mac-n-cheese pressed in a waffle iron and the cauliflower steak with lemon-herb sauce.
There’s a hefty list of sausages served on a grilled Albemarle Baking Company pretzel roll and you get a choice of two toppings, which include peppers, onions (caramelized or pickled), kraut, relish or garlic mushrooms (consider bringing a pack of mints if you’re on a date). Sandwiches include a Timbercreek burger, a portobello mushroom burger and Das Boot, a crispy pork loin “schnitzelwich” with lettuce, red onion and creamy horseradish sauce on a soft brioche bun.
Whichever meal you order, go for a side of the hand-cut Belgian fries with garlic and sea salt. And don’t skimp on the selection of 11 mustards, ketchups and specialty sauces for dipping. Curry ketchup is a classic German condiment, the Shenandoah Valley ranch is everything you want it to be, and who turns down a roasted garlic aioli?
Come for the beer, stay for the fries and the bocce. And probably more beer.
There’s no ‘I’ in beer
The folks behind the Kardinal Hall beer garden are practically bouncing with excitement to tell you about what’s available, especially the local collaboration drafts. Kardinal is not a brewery, but the beer-obsessed team has already joined forces with four local breweries to create one-of-a-kind, small-batch beers that will be available until they run out, including:
Preston Ave Wheat: An American wheat ale created with Three Notch’d, featuring fresh basil from Fifth Season Gardening.
Devils Backbone Kardinal Lime IPA: Brewed in Nelson County, features West Coast hops and limes.
Champion Peach Berliner: A peach version of Champion’s tart Berliner Weiss.
Blue Mountain L’oiseru Magique: A French saison with a dry finish.