PHILADELPHIA MIGHT be the best beer-drinking city in America, but we’re the wurst-eating city, too.
Grilled bratwurst, paprika-spiced bockwurst, smoky knackwurst, mustard-covered weisswurst and jerkylike landjäger – along with liters of German lager, these are the staples of Oktoberfest.
Or, as Doug Hager, co-owner of South Street’s Brauhaus Schmitz declares, “Throw away your knife and fork . . . Wurst may not be very refined, but it is manly.”
The other day I sat down with Hager and his executive chef, Jeremy Nolen, for some “frank” talk.
Considering it’s just meat stuffed into a tube, isn’t sausage kind of a low cuisine?
“It was looked down at, but not anymore,” Nolen said.
“Everybody’s making it,” said Hager. “Just look at all the places with house-made charcuterie.”
In a tough economy, Nolen said, “Restaurants have gone from filet to hanger cuts of steak.”
“That’s right. You don’t want to give your patrons sticker shock when they see the menu,” Hager added.
“It wasn’t always filet mignon or racks of lamb, you know,” Nolen said. “Chefs have always liked inexpensive cuts. For one thing, a lot of times they taste better.”
Nolen learned to make sausage when he was in high school, guided by his father, Ron, who was a noted chef in the Allentown area, and “an old German guy named Horst.” Nolen earned his chops running the kitchen at Reading’s private Liderkranz German club at the age of 23.
He readily admits he takes liberties with his recipes. “Sometimes we get Germans in here and they say that’s not authentic,” Nolen said. “But we serve hundreds of pounds a week, so . . . “
Not quite as spicy as a Polish kielbasa, Nolen’s pork-filled bratwurst, flavored with caraway and marjoram, is nonetheless savory. Washing down a couple of links with a tall glass of dark, creamy Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel is downright sensual.
“You’re not talking about pairing wurst with a fine Chardonnay,” Hager said. “It’s gotta be beer.”
In a town where so many names end in a vowel (Cannuli, Maglio, Fiorella, D’Angelo), Italian sausage will always be king. But as Oktoberfest kicks off in earnest this weekend, you’ll find plenty of German wurst at local festivals and restaurants.
On Saturday, Nolen and other area chefs will show off their wieners (OK, that didn’t come out right) at Sausage Fest at South Philadelphia Tap Room (1509 Mifflin St.). The event, which starts at 4 p.m., also features handmade varieties from SPTR’s Scott Schroeder, Nick Macri of Southwark, Gene Giuffi of Cochon and Pascual Cancelliere of 943.
Also this Saturday, they’ll be serving up the best of the wurst at the Warminster Micro Blues Fest on the wooded grounds of the beautiful Vereinigung Erzgebirge club in Bucks County. I’ll be emceeing the festival and leading a special tasting during the event. Info and tix here.
Brauhaus Schmitz will celebrate the season with a weeklong festival starting Monday and featuring a bratwurst-eating contest on Sept. 22. The events will wrap up on Sept. 24 when the restaurant shuts down South Street’s 700 block for an afternoon festival featuring still more wurst.
Home-cooked wurst is on the menu at the United German Hungarian Club’s (4666 East Bristol Road, Langhorne) 133rd Oktoberfest, Sept. 23-25. Festival admission is just 5 bucks and features the foot-stomping, wurst-chomping oompah music of the Heimat Klange Orchestra.
If you wear lederhosen or a dirndl during this weekend’s Oktoberfest at Hop Angel Brauhaus (7980 Oxford Ave., Fox Chase), they’ll serve you a free sausage sandwich. Remember to match it with a glass of Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen, one of my favorite Bavarians.
Meanwhile, go local and pair your wurst with a Victory Festbier, Stoudt’s Oktoberfest or Flying Fish OktoberFish during Oktoberfest at McGillin’s Old Ale House (1310 Drury St., Center City). German specialties fill the menu throughout the celebration, which runs until the annual Midtown Village Fall Fest on Oct. 1.
Of course, if you’re truly going to be manly about it, you’ll fire up your grill and make ’em yourself.
Look for packages of Brauhaus Schmitz’s bratwurst and smoky pork-and-beef bauernwurst at Green Aisle Grocery (1618 E. Passyunk Ave., South Philly). I also recommend the bockwurst at Illg’s Meats (365 Folly Road, Chalfont) and the weisswurst at Rieker’s Prime Meats (7979 Oxford Ave., Fox Chase).
You can’t go wrong cooking your own if you serve plenty of Oktoberfestbier. This season, I’ve been grooving to the original, Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen, and Flying Dog Dogtoberfest from Maryland. I’ll be pouring both of them on Sept. 23 at a free Oktoberfest sampling at Bell Beverage (2809 S. Front St., South Philly), then again at a five-course, $25 fall beer tasting at Chap’s Taproom (2509 W. Main St., Jeffersonville) on Sept. 29.