In historic downtown Sanford north of Orlando, near the banks of Lake Monroe, Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe welcomes patrons in with German music, authentic German food, and German beers. It’s an ode to the great German beer halls, a place where it is always Oktoberfest on Thursday – Sunday evenings. Through the Willow Tree Cafe, owners Theo, Linda, and daughter Christina Hollerbach do their best to bring the experience of authentic German Gemuetlichkeit, a sense of well-being and happiness that comes from enjoying the company of friends and family while savoring good food and drink.
I recently travelled up to Sanford with my fiance, and friends Pearleen and Al Buchala of Megayummo.com to try the Willow Tree Cafe out for the first time and also support the local businesses of Sanford.
When they first opened in 2001, owner Theo Hollerbach told me that the cafe took up about 1000 square feet and now they are up to 14,000 square feet with over 75 employees with an impressive outdoor dining area. The place gets very busy here, with reservations often booked out weeks ahead, often for special occasions and family celebrations. On certain evenings, you can see the jovial, bearded Chef Theo walking from table to table, welcoming guests, and sharing the festive air and drinks with restaurant patrons as he makes his rounds. We also got to share a wonderful 2-liter boot of German beer with Chef Hollerbach on this evening. Our friend Kendra Lott of Edible Orlando Magazine also got a chance to join in on the beer party.
Chef Theo Hollerbach explains: Watch for the Swirl at the bottom of the boot
The Willow Tree serves over 50 different German Beers and wines and live entertainment in the form of the popular oom-pah band complete with tuba and accordians. The beer is always flowing freely here, where every few minutes you can hear cheers of the German drinking toast “Zicke, Zacke, Zicke, Zacke, Hoi, Hoi, Hoi!”. Bring a group of friends and family and enjoy some beer in a “boot” which comes in 1, 2, and 3 liter sizes.
The Hollerbach family comes from the small town of Kyllburg in Germany where Theo’s grandfather was a master butcher and the family was famous for their sausages. Their recipes include many of the old world traditional, and family specialties and they serve up dishes like bratwurst sausages, numbergers, veal, pork, and chicken schnitzels. Start off with some nice freshly baked Wiesn Brezn (giant pretzel) with a sweet mustard sauce.
My favorites include the potato cakes sides and the Eisbein, the very flavorful, tender, and lightly smoked pork shank, served with sauerkraut and Heaven and Earth mashed potatoes. End the meal with some German Apfel Strudel made in house with fresh apples, rum-soaked white raisins, cinnamon and sugar. The Willow Tree Cafe is a place that is festive and fun and definitely a place to enjoy yourself with family and friends. Prosit!
Eisbein, the very flavorful, tender, and lightly smoked pork shank, served with sauerkraut and Heaven and Earth mashed potatoes
Sausage platter with bratwurst
Pork Schnitzel with potato cakes and red cabbage