What better idea than to enjoy a traditional German lunch on the first Saturday in October? That’s what my friend, Jill, and I thought as we embarked on a wonderful afternoon of shopping in Minneapolis. It was a glorious fall day and we decided to begin it with a visit to The Black Forest Inn. I was pleasantly surprised that Jill had never been to this traditional eatery, which has been serving up German cuisine since 1965 at the same location in Minneapolis. What an opportune time to visit!
Oktoberfest is a more than 200 year old tradition in Germany, begun as a wedding celebration in 1804 for then Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. Ludwig’s castle, Neuschwanstein, inspired the one in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. A hundred years earlier, another Ludwig, Eberhard Ludwig of Baden-Württemberg built a number of magnificent residences, including this palace in Ludwigsburg (this is a photo I took when my daughter Robin and I were there in 2002), which was inspired by his visit to Versailles. This Schloss has a marvelous “children’s realm” and garden with restored mechanical fairy tale displays that are the 18th and 19th century versions of a theme park.
Why bring this history up? Because of spaetzle, that’s why! Wikipedia tells us written mention of spaetzle occurs in about 1725, smack dab between the two Ludwigs and right in the middle of their respective regions, although its fairly certain the noodles are depicted in earlier medieval illustrations. Today, spaetzle is associated with both Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, where commercial producers make about 40,000 tons of it every year.
As we entered the restaurant, Jill and I, both good girls of German descent, decided we would have to order spaetzle to go along with whatever we individually preferred. The Black Forest Inn makes its own spaetzle using a traditional process, available at many grocers in the Midwest, as well as in bulk from the restaurant itself. Depending upon the region in Germany where you lived, you would use either a sieve to drop the batter into boiling water or cut the spaetzle noodles from dough using a board over the cooking pot. We both had seen Pete’s mom use the sieve method in preparing her spaetzle, as good Bavarians are wont to do.
When my brother, John, visited Minneapolis last year, we’d enjoyed lunch in the Black Forest Inn’s charming courtyard, replete with cafe tables and traditional fountain. As it was a bit chilly on the shaded patio, Jill and I decided on the tavern area, arriving during an early afternoon lull with only a few other patrons. The old world atmosphere has just the right feel: authentic carvings and details, with a well-worn, traditional effect. The Inn takes its Oktoberfest celebration seriously, with lots of action, contests, special menus and themed nights.
We started out with a beer sampler: a five-wide tasting display of a variety of German and local beers. From left to right: Stiegl Gold-Brau – an Austrian Blond Oktoberfest-style beer, described as malty, full-flavored with a rich finish. Second was Schell’s Octoberfest, brewed in New Ulm, Minnesota, which was a rich amber color. Next, we had Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest, which the Black Forest Inn describes as its flagship Oktoberfest beer, highly anticipated every year. Next up was another local beer, Summit’s Oktoberfest, brewed in St. Paul, one of only two lagers from Summit. And finally, we tried Spaten Oktoberfest, the original and official Oktoberfest beer from Munich, full-flavored and strong. All were delicious, and I couldn’t really choose a favorite.
I thought I recalled that my brother had enjoyed the Sauerbraten and so I was determined to order it, whether my memory was faulty or not. 🙂 Jill’s maiden name is Sauer, coincidentally. Sauerbraten is a classic German dish, traditionally marinated for three days to develop a more intense flavor, using cider vinegar and sauerbraten spice (a hand mix of mustard seed, juniper berries, allspice, cassia, dill seed, bay leaves, cloves, ginger, star anise, Tellicherry peppercorns, coriander, mace, cardamom, and red chile peppers). The gravy is made from the beef marinade along with gingersnaps and brown sugar. Fortunately, you can choose from two sizes at lunch time, so what you see here is the smaller portion! It didn’t bother me in the least that my entree also included spaetzle on the side!
Jill ordered an Alsatian Casserole. Since Pete and I had recently enjoyed an evening at Fritz and Frites, a bistro in historic Galena, Illinois that serves the cuisine of Alsace-Lorraine, I was interested to see her selection. It was a hearty bowl of potato, sauerkraut, and sausage, tumbled into a flavorful stew. On the side, along with our spaetzle, we were served the multi-grain brötchen you see (briefly!) resting on Jill’s plate. Our lunch was so filling, we deliberately passed up dessert, even though there was a tempting choice of European torte, German kuchens and strudels!
A debacle of a football game for the University of Minnesota team against a ridiculously victorious Michigan team couldn’t dampen our happy spirits as Jill and I lingered over our authentic German lunch on that beautiful fall afternoon. The flavors of the dishes we enjoyed were a harbinger of the season’s change, even as summery sunshine lingered. The tasty combinations were reminiscent of meals we both had enjoyed as children, where Old Country traditions had been lovingly remembered at our families’ tables. What a great way to kick off a beautiful day and a new season!
- A Sunday German Dinner (wrappedinhappiness.com)
- Eat This Tonight: Oktoberfest brats, schnitzel, shanks, and beer (charlestoncitypaper.com)