People sometimes ask me what my favorite restaurants in Santa Cruz are, and while there are many, I always include Tyrolean Inn in Ben Lomond on my list. Itâ€™s not just because the Swiss chalet tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains serves up robust Bavarian fare in generous quantities, or because of the excellence of their draft list of traditional German bocks, pilsners and lagers, or that getting there up beautiful Highway 9 feels like a mini-adventure. Itâ€™s all of these thingsâ€”and the cuckoo clocks.
The cozy cabin is surrounded by conifers, and inside, the walls are covered with German knick-knacks. Steins are everywhereâ€”hanging from the ceiling, stacked behind the bar and displayed in glass cases. The dining room boasts not one but two fireplaces and a wall of vintage cuckoo clocks. Traditional German folk music (and some modern coversâ€”my friendâ€™s ears caught an accordion-filled version of â€œMacarenaâ€) completes the fantasy that youâ€™ve just stopped in after a long day of mountaineering in the Alps. It might be on the kitschy side, but itâ€™s so utterly charming and welcoming itâ€™s hard to wipe the grin off my face.
On my most recent visit, my friend and I started with a half liter of caramel-y, biscuit-y doppelbock and a crisp glass of German Riesling as we settled into the umlaut-sprinkled menu, giggling at our terrible pronunciations of our many dinner choices. Among several preparations of schnitzel thereâ€™s a variety of sausages, beef roasts, pork shank, cutlets and chops, smoked trout and pickled herring. Accompaniments abound in the form of spÃ¤tzle, bread dumplings, potatoes mashed or boiled, salad with dill-spiked dressing, sweet-and-sour red cabbage spiced with clove and, of course, sauerkraut. I usually have a hard time committing, and wind up ordering one of their mixed plates, where I can sample a combination of hearty delicacies.
The portions are large enough to sufficiently line the belly of an Oktoberfest reveler, but no matter how full to bursting I might feel, I always end each meal as I imagine I would were I actually in Deutschlandâ€”with a slice of apfelstrudel, before rolling myself back down the mountain to California.