Opening night of Oktoberfest, and amidst the alpine horns, lederhosen, and accordion music on the patio, who’s that tapping the ceremonial keg of Hacker Pschorr? Is it Dieter? Is it Klaus? No, it’s Sven. Sundgaard. KARE 11’s Scando-American meteorologist. And under his requisite Bavarian hat he’s wearing jeans and flip-flops.
And there’s your first cue for understanding and enjoying Oktoberfest at the Black Forest Inn: Celebrate tradition, but don’t take it too seriously.
Oktoberfest started September 28 and runs through October 7, or from Prost Night to Drain the Keg Night. For those 10 days — including Socks with Sandals Night, Grimm Night, and on October 3, the “überest” night of all, Wagner Night — the South Minneapolis restaurant runs a menu of specials that also hold only lightly to tradition.
Hample pie is new this year. “It’s a Vermont thing,” says Black Forest Inn Manager Erica Christ. Think apple pie but with cubes of cheddar and ham tucked between the crusts, too. Sweet far outweighs savory, including in the crust: more flaky than crumbly, more pastry than quiche. So though hample pie comes with a side of dry red-cabbage slaw and gets billed as an entrée, it works better as dessert.
Eating beef bone marrow is a tradition in some parts of Europe. On the Oktoberfest menu, the bones are not only roasted but smoked, and come with a cap of salty, buttery browned bread crumbs. You might find that that’s the part you like best. The texture of the marrow, which comes with white toast to spread it on, is somewhere between the fat you trim from your steaks, the flowy edges of an oyster, and the meat of a scallop, in that the marrow naturally cleaves apart in places. There’s no sweetness or brine, though. The taste is as pale as the stuff itself, with just a shadow of smoke and blood and minerals. More mouth-feel than flavor, the marrow is rich enough to satiate after a few small bites.
Not to your liking? Then keep your bier handy to wash it down. Black Forest is tapping six Oktoberfests, from Schell’s in New Ulm (a bit of toastiness) and Summit in St. Paul (maltier, with a very subtle smoky note) to German brewers Ayinger (lighter body and a little bubbly), Spaten (wimpy), Erdinger (a wheaty Oktober-weiss blend), and Hacker-Pshorr, the flagship fest beer (malty and with a hint of autumn apples).
Hacker-Pschorr’s beers have been the Black Forest Inn’s go-to favorites for years, and the restaurant’s familiar standbys are also a fine way to go if you’re ordering food during Oktoberfest.
The German potato salad with bits of bacon and onion is creamy, not from cream but from the way the potatoes soften around the edges and start to melt into the vinegary-sweet dressing. The sauerkraut, no limp, obligatory side, still has the crispness and peppery bite of cabbage with a nice addition of parsley. The house-made bratwurst are the ur-bratwurst of your sausage cravings.
They’re made by Erich Christ, Erica’s father, who emigrated from Germany and co-founded the restaurant with his wife. One Oktoberfest special of note is Christ’s weisswurst. More tender, fine-textured, and sweet than bratwurst, they comprise a blend more veal than pork and spiced with, among other things, a pinch of cardamom.
As the Black Forest Inn says about Freudian Slip Night coming up this Saturday, October 6, so too with the weisswurst: “Do not repress your desire to experience this.”