“We have no German restaurants.” It was a common complaint by many after Ludwig’s Garten shuttered in early ‘08.
Raise your beer steins for a prost (cheers) because it’s no longer true. A little research unturned some under-the-radar European haunts around the greater region. These destinations, coupled with the recent opening of Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street, means there’s plenty hearty fare to go around. And there’s no better time than this month, which brings the start of Oktoberfest, a worldwide festival also hugely celebrated in Philadelphia.
The topic at hand couldn’t come at a better time, personally. Being that my family is almost one hundred percent German and we are heading to Deutschland this month for vacation (yes, hitting up the real Oktoberfest), when better a time to immerse myself in all things German?
Let’s start out with Brauhaus Schmitz (718 South St.), which opened in late June, and is the region’s wholly authentic German bierhall and restaurant. Husband and wife team Doug and Kelly Hager are the owner-operators and bring inspiration from their many years spent living and working in Germany. Tables filled with beer drinkers spill out onto South Street on warm summer nights, and the low-ceiling second level features cozy tables for two overlooking all the action. The beers here – twenty German on tap – are served up with thick foamy heads in tall, authentic glasses. We tried the Reissdorf Kölsch, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse and Schmitz’s own Brauhaus Hausbrau. Executive Chef Jeremy Nolan creates truly authentic fare, served up by waitresses adorned in German dirndls. Apps include rollmops – pickled herring wrapped with onion, pickle and served with sour cream with rye. The Hausgemachte Nürnberger is the house-made signature pork bratwurst seasoned with caraway and other spices. If you’re really hungry, it can be ordered as a two-meter-long serving. The best thing about dinner here are the sides – choose from a long list of classics including potato pancakes, sauerkraut and rotkohl.
Otto’s Brauhaus in Horsham features a kitschy outdoor biergarten worthy of trying before the weather gets too chilly. The menu is very broad and at moments it seems like an American restaurant. But then the accordion player in authentic lederhosen and an alpine hat starts playing. Sitting with a good beer outside, it does feel somewhat like Germany. A standby in the ‘burbs for over 70 years, the kitchen is currently headed by owner George Iliopoulos. Interesting options include wiener schnitzel with capers, anchovies and a sunny-side up egg; and the Bavarian wurst salad, featuring thinly sliced knockwurst and onion marinated in a house vinaigrette, served over fresh greens. Austrian Village is another well-kept secret outside of the city. The restaurant serves up German and Austrian cuisine for lunch and dinner – and dancing on the weekends.
Center city’s Warsaw Café (306 S 16th St.) focuses on Eastern European cuisine, but many of the dishes circle back to German flavors. Owned and operated by Marion Jarzemski, the restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The sauerbraten here is made with cuts of filet mignon marinated for three days in red wine, lemons and herbs, and then finished with a sweet and sour brown sauce. Another interesting kitchen selection: the Norwegian strudel, which combines chicken, veggies, almonds, raisins, and herbs in a pastry crust.
This official Oktoberfest dates are September 19 through October 4, but look for a bevy of revelry options in Philly throughout September going into October. Cannstatter’s 137th Volksfest Oktoberfest will be held Labor Day weekend, September 5-7, featuring German food, beer and wine, as well as singing, dancing and authentic clothing. Philly Oktoberfest 2009 will be held September 19, featuring day and night tickets. There will be plenty of Spaten, Franziskaner, and dozens of other Oktoberfest biers and pumpkin ales to go around.
If you’re outside of the city, head to McKenzie Brew House in Malvern and Chadds Ford, where the restaurant is hosting its first-ever McKenzie-fest (mckenziebrewhouse.com). The brewery will be tapping its special Oktoberfest and Pumpkinfest seasonal brews, and guests can order off a special menu of German favorites during the official Oktoberfest dates.
Lastly, if you’re planning your own Oktoberfest party, head over to Rieker's Prime Meats. A trip here is so much easier than making wursts at home. Rieker’s does it all in-house including selections like bacon knackwurst, Oktoberfest bratwurst and bockwurst. There’s also a large variety of sundry goods, from cookbooks and streusel mixes to imported Laugenbretzels - par-baked, frozen and shipped straight from Germany.
Foodservice Monthly, September 2009