Oktoberfest all through the year? Local restaurants sample German foodFARGO – Oktoberfest ended earlier this month in its Munich, Germany, home, but like so many great things, the holiday takes a while to get to Fargo-Moorhead.
By: John Lamb, INFORUM
IF YOU GO
What: Das Zimmer: Oktoberfest buffet
When: 6 p.m., Thursday
Where: VIP Room, 624 Main Ave., Fargo
Info: Tickets are $32 per person, German wines and German-style beers available for extra. (701) 293-1999.
IF YOU GO
What: Oktoberfest beer dinner
When: Oct. 23
Where: Maxwell’s, 1380 9th St. E., West Fargo
Info: $50 per person. (701) 277-9463
FARGO – Oktoberfest ended earlier this month in its Munich, Germany, home, but like so many great things, the holiday takes a while to get to Fargo-Moorhead.
Last weekend, area adults took part in an Oktoberfest pub crawl in downtown Fargo.
Beer is certainly a major component in the Bavarian-brewed holiday, but two upcoming events seek to highlight German-style cooking.
The VIP Room in Fargo hosts an Oktoberfest buffet on Thursday featuring knoephla suppe (dumpling and potato soup), jeagerschnitzel (breaded pork in peppercorn onion gravy), würsten mit sauerkraut und speck (sausage and sauerkraut) and rotkohl mit apfel (red cabbage with apples), among other delicacies.
On Oct. 23, Maxwells in West Fargo pairs Bavarian-inspired beer and food like barbecued kielbasa turnovers, marinated beef brisket with a red wine mushroom sauce, sauerkraut and apple relish and, of course, knoephla soup.
“It’s a very festive time of year, and people still really rally around the German beer and wine,” says Gordy Richardson, owner of the VIP Room. He says the Oktoberfest dinner (this is his third) is the most popular of the VIP’s culturally themed events, which include a Mardi Gras jazz brunch or a French dinner.
“You know those Germans from Russia. There’s quite a few around here still,” Richardson says of the ethnic group that left their homeland in the 1870s, with many settling in North Dakota.
German descendants make up the biggest ethnic demographic in North Dakota (47.2 percent) and Minnesota (37.9 percent), according to recent census information.
Despite those numbers, German restaurants in the Red River Valley are tough to find (some of the closest are in the Park Rapids, Minn.-area, about 90 miles to the east). The lack of Deutsch dining puzzles Richardson.
“You’ve got everything but German going now. It seems like it would work. I think you could cater to a younger crowd with the right beer,” he says, acknowledging that he had trouble getting in some beers but will have the German St. Pauli Girl lager and Special Dark as well as Riesling wines.
“It would probably kill,” Richardson says of a local hofbräu (German-style restaurant or tavern with food). “I really don’t understand why no one has attempted it.”
Don’t hold your breath, say others in the Fargo food industry.
“I don’t know if it would last up here,” says Adrian Baldwin, sous chef at Maxwell’s.
Baldwin devised that restaurant’s Oktoberfest menu. While it’s not all authentic Germanic cuisine, it is inspired by it, like the Austrian red wine and vinegar marinade over beef brisket.
(He also said getting some German beers was tough, but he was happy to get Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest Marzen from Munich.)
“It’s great. It’s cheap,” Baldwin says of German fare. “But I don’t know if there’s a clientele that would eat there consistently enough.”
His concerns are echoed by someone who has a good handle on German food – Rick Jaeger, manager at the Fargo Kroll’s Diner.
The North Dakota business is the best-known outlet for certain old country favorites, like beef or breakfast fleischkuechle, fried dough, peach, apple, strawberry and blueberry kuchens and, of course, knoephla soup.
The latter is a staple on the menu.
“There are days we sell 30 gallons of knoephla (soup), and I’m not even exaggerating,” Jaeger says.
While their select German menu items are popular, he doesn’t see a full-scale German restaurant on the likely horizon.
“When you narrow it down to just German food, I think you’re setting yourself up for failure a little bit,” he says, adding that some Teutonic staples such as dumplings and dough are “so labor intensive, you’d probably go broke with labor costs with everything German.”
Jaeger says Kroll’s isn’t offering any special Oktoberfest items or events but may in the future.
“Eighty percent of our business here, or better, is American food,” he says, though he adds that some people come in looking for German fare.
“As far as I know, this is one of the only places in town where you can get a lot of these items,” he says.
“There’s a lot of that German blood still around,” Richardson says of the attraction to Oktoberfest fare. “It’s that good, rib-sticking great winter food. Totally comfort food. You don’t go away hungry.”
Richardson adds that the VIP Room’s dinner is a buffet, “so you can really get your money’s worth.”