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Maas Appeal 

by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ocation, location, location. So the old saw goes. Businesses fail and succeed on the strength of their location. Well, tell that to the Maas family. Dennis and Janice Maas have been operating Europa Pizzaria out of an unassuming brick building tucked in under the railroad viaduct in downtown Spokane for 17 years. Their Wall Street Diner, a cozy little breakfast nook, is in the middle of a residential neighborhood on the north side, just blocks from the Garland District, but nearly surrounded by private homes.





Then there's this place, Maaskeller's -- a German chalet on busy, sprawling, traffic-clogged Division Street. The restaurant has gone through a number of transformations in the last couple of years -- from Dewey, Cheatham and Howe to the Garden Grill; from the Maases' hands to those of head chef Vic Wills and back to the Maas family. Now it's got a new name, a redesign -- and spaetzle. It still has Division Street raging outside.





That was a little jarring, as we passed through the dark, mildly claustrophobic foyer, done up in Bavarian chocolate woods and oak barrels. It was nice, moody. It erased the memories of where we'd just come from, took us somewhere else. Up a half-flight of steps to a brightly lit room with that chalet ceiling and the squash-colored walls and the big picture windows, though, and we were back to Division -- looking out not across the Alps or the Matterhorn, but Kaylon Gardens and Staples.





No matter. The Germans are a hearty people not put off by a few cars and a Jack-in-the-Box. We tore into the menu, disapproving of the hard-to-read Teutonic font, but arching our eyebrows at a few of its selections, which, like the d & eacute;cor, were a mishmash of European cuisine and other stuff. It's got some of the old favorites from the Garden Grill bill -- the popular pecan-crusted salmon, the Reuben and Monte Cristo sandwiches, the senior citizens' liver and onions. But also a hefty dose of Bavaria, including three separate schnitzels. The d & eacute;cor mashes up a European feeling with vintage Washington apple posters and a giant framed certificate in one corner announcing that John Cantello Knee had been "duly initiated into the mysteries of Buffaloism."





Luke pounced on some spinach-artichoke dip ($8) right away. I ordered us a plate of stout bratwurst ($9) on a bed of kraut, a side I've reviled since my stepmother used to stink up the house with it. Zack polished that off. The brats were tasty, but a little cold. I fussed over the menu some more while the others stowed away the very satisfying bread and dip. Zack called it "creamy in the best possible way."





The wait staff were new and fumbled a little but were very kind and personable. Our waitress brought Luke a burger that flew in the face of his rigid diet -- a Portobello mushroom affair that was good, but not great. There was a big mushroom cap, some kind of cheese whose name escaped us and the usual burger fixins: lettuce, tomato, pickle, etc. The cheese was nice and creamy, and the fungi managed to at least substitute for the weight of an actual hunk of beef, if not the taste or texture. It was exactly what it purported to be -- a very basic Portobello burger, nothing less but certainly nothing more.





His creamy tomato basil soup was a little too salty, he said, but "tomatoey and basilicious," whatever that means. My white bean chili was quite good, though not salty enough. And our rolls were, like, ice-box cold. Maybe this is just how the Germans eat them. I wouldn't be surprised.





The waitress brought Zack and I each a beer. But not just any beers. Big German beers. Zack's Cuvee Diabolique came in a 750-milliliter bottle (about a pint and a half), with 8.5 percent alcohol. It cost us $11. It poured in a yellow cloud, which soon enshrouded his head. My Schneider Wiesen Edel-Weisse weighed in at seven bucks and probably 22 ounces. We wished we'd been told what we were getting ourselves into, both financially and voluminously. Halfway down the bottle, we were less concerned.





Both beers provided a nice spice for our otherwise somewhat bland meals. Zack's pesto ravioli ($14) was perfectly proportioned and very nicely presented, but it wasn't quite rich enough. (Luke seemed to like it. He tempted fate by licking about a quarter teaspoon of the pesto sauce off his fork. He's deathly allergic to pine nuts. He is an idiot.) My gasthaus-style lecs ($13) were tasty, but not quite there. The dish should've been a hit with me -- I think God put sausage on this earth to be smoked and combined with peppers and onions. But this needed more salt, more spice, more oomph. I liked the spaetzle, which came with it, but I made the mistake of getting gravy on it. I probably should have just mixed it in with the lecs.





I still ate it, and by the time the dessert tray was brought around to us, we could only stare stupidly and wave our gustatory white flags at it. Zack ditched us, leaving behind another eight ounces of beer or so, which no one had the stomach to finish. I didn't know what time it was. I wondered if we had just been initiated into the mysteries of Buffaloism without even knowing it. If this were really a German alehouse, then I'd say the Germans need to invest in some spice. If we were still on Division Street, then I'd say they're doing a damn fine job. But I still can't decide which it was.





Maaskeller's Ale House, 3022 N. Division, is open Sun-Thu, 11 am-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 11 am-10 pm. Call 326-7741.

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