I love Oktoberfest. It offers all the fun of a holiday with none of the responsibility. No gifts to be wrapped, no halls to be decked, and no stack of Oktoberfest cards to be mailed. It’s just fun, feasting and, let’s face it, beer. Lots and lots of beer. This year’s celebration might be a little quieter than most, with an emphasis on the feast rather than on the “fest." But I won’t let a little thing like a global pandemic stand between me and, well, a few of my favorite things. With big celebrations deemed “verboten,” this year, we’re doing our festing at home. I call it Oktobernating.
We kicked off this year’s celebration with a little family feast courtesy of Café Amsterdam. This old-school European eatery offers a rotating dinner box for two, featuring hearty, homey German specialties. We opted for the bratwurst box ($20) which includes two locally made sausages served on sautéed red cabbage and onions, along with warm potato salad, beer bread and a house-made stone-ground mustard. We were very well satisfied. I am never mad at a good German sausage, and I wasn’t mad at these. They were perfectly grilled with a nice, snappy casing and a juicy, savory interior. The sautéed cabbage was tangy, bright and lightly cooked, with a pleasantly al dente texture. But it was the warm German potato salad that was, for me, the dish of the day. Thin slices of creamy red potatoes were tossed in a vinegary dressing studded generously with buttery, smoky bacon. It’s the gold standard of potato salad.
Of course, when it comes to Oktoberfest dining, beverages are anything but an afterthought. We washed our meal down with a growler of a smooth, light Aiyinger Bavarian Pilsner. Its dry finish offered the perfect balance to the salt and acid in our meal. (A 64-ounce growler was $20.) These are tough times, but beer, wine and cocktails to-go are among the few silver linings in our new dining landscape.
A few days later, we kept the party going with lunch, provided by West Berlin. We ordered a couple of Bavarian pretzels ($9 for two), a rinderbrust (beef brisket) roll ($12) and an order of my personal German favorite, currywurst ($10). While, the pretzels didn’t seem as fresh as they could have been, they perked up nicely in the toaster oven. The rinderbrust roll was generously stuffed with tender, savory brisket and served with an addictively bracing horseradish sauce. But the star of the meal was the smoky, spicy currywurst. The salty, savory fried pork sausages are dusted in curry powder and topped with generous lashings of curried ketchup. This is late-night, on-your-way-home-from-the-bar comfort food. In our case, this was midday, stop-by-the-liquor-store-on-your-way-home comfort food. In other words, there was some day-drinking.
You guys, it’s good to be reminded of the embarrassment of riches we Alaskans have when it comes to good beer. We decided to focus mainly on German-style Alaskan beers, and we were still spoiled for choice. We loved the King Street Oktoberfest, a nutty, malty brew that brought a nice balance to the salty, spiced smokiness of the currywurst. We also dipped into a bottle of Kassik’s German chocolate stout, described by the brewery as their version of German chocolate cake. In other words, it was not so much a pairing, as its own dessert course.
The following weekend, we ordered dinner from Southside Bistro, opting, of course, for their pork schnitzel, which has been on the menu for as long as I can remember. And it’s a perennial favorite for good reason. I did not grow up eating schnitzel but, somehow, this version of it makes me feel nostalgic. The homey dish of thin, crispy pork cutlet, flanked with roasted potatoes, is elevated with a decadent dill crema and a dollop of lingonberry preserves, each lending a fresh, bright note. We paired this dish with an “imported” beer — the Flocktoberfest by Black Raven Brewing Co., a light and clean-tasting brew from Washington. For dessert, we broke into the smoked Marzen by 49th State Brewing Co., a lightly sweet rauchbier with a hint of caramel and campfire. Keep your s’mores. I’ll keep this beer.
A few days later, I took Oktoberfest into my own culinary hands, and hit up Alaska Seafood & Sausage to pick up some authentic bratwurst and knackwurst for our grill. You can get many of their products at most of the grocery stores around town (they make a regular appearance on my Costco list), but I highly recommend dropping into their flagship location’s little retail shop from time to time. It’s delightful. In addition to their smoked seafood and house made sausages, you can also peruse their shelves stacked with European pantry staples.
There are jars of gooseberries, pickled herring and curry ketchup, among other mysterious and intriguing things. In addition to the meat, I picked up bags of dried spaetzle, a few spicy mustards, a jar of German sauerkraut, and an assortment of hard-to-find candies. (Special shoutout to the salty Finnish licorice, which my licorice-loving daughter pronounces to be “upsetting,” and with which I am now obsessed.) Did I buy three bags of discounted Smurf gummies (or, according to the package, die Schlumpfe)? Reader, I did.
But I digress. At home, we grilled the brats until they were smoky and charred and served them on a bed of buttered spaetzle and poppy seeds with a side of sauerkraut. We also got down to the serious business of polishing off the partially full growlers and bottles. It’s a tough job, but if I don’t do it, who will?
It’s a little bit sad that the nation’s dirndls and lederhosen will remain in their dry-cleaner bags for another year. But I’m willing to declare yoga pants and hoodies to be the official gear of Oktobernating: 2020. Plus, every local business I’ve mentioned here is serving up German-style goodness year-round. And in 2020, there are no rules. So, go ahead and celebrate Novemberfest and Decemberfest too. Hopefully next year, we’ll be raising glasses together. In the meantime, zum Wohl!
8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)
530 E. Benson Blvd., No. 3
(Dinner boxes can be ordered anytime between noon and 5 p.m.)
11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Monday–Saturday, 12-8 p.m. Sunday
4133 Mountain View Drive
4:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, 4:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)
1320 Huffman Park Drive
Alaska Seafood & Sausage
9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 a.m. Saturday (closed Sunday)
2914 Arctic Blvd.