With large gatherings a no-no this year, the traditional Germanfest in Caras Park had to be canceled, as did big Oktoberfest celebrations elsewhere.
But if you’re in the mood for a beer and brat to make your own fete this fall, consider the Edelweiss Bistro in Missoula, where German food and drink are the year-round stars of the menu.
The bistro just celebrated its fifth anniversary: It opened Sept. 21, 2015, inside Bayern Brewing at 1507 Montana St. The brewing company itself has been around since 1987, so it went a long time without a full-fledged eatery. The opening of the Edelweiss was a big change, said Shawna Chandler, marketing and events manager at Bayern.
“We went from having just the brat in a bun and soft pretzels made by the servers to a full menu and bigger staff,” she said.
“The inspiration behind it was Jurgen's idea to have Bavarian-style food to go along with his beer. He designed the menu himself and chose things from his hometown that are true German dishes.”
Jurgen, of course, is Jurgen Knoller, Bayern’s owner and brewmaster. He hails from Bavaria, the German state whose main cities are Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg. Bayern’s beers are brewed according to strict rules set out by the 1516 German Law of Purity. “That means no berries, adjuncts, artificial carbonation, or other strange ingredients are used in the process,” Bayern’s website says. “All you will find in a Bayern beer is malted barley, yeast, hops, and water.”
Need a quick vocabulary lesson for German food to go with German beer? At the Edelweiss Bistro you’ll find:
Gurkensalat — a cucumber salad made with yogurt, fresh chives and a hint of garlic.
Obatzda — a creamy, soft spread made with Camembert cheese, Bayern’s Dragon’s Breath beer, onions and paprika. It’s served with a pretzel.
Leberkase — This is a popular Bavarian meatloaf that’s also found in Southern Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland. The bistro’s is made with corned beef, pork and bacon that is finely ground and baked as a loaf until it gets a crunchy brown crust. New on the menu is Bayern’s Leberkase sandwich; make it a “Royal” and you’ll get it served with a fried egg, pepperoncini peppers and fried onions.
Landjager — A semi-dry sausage traditionally made in Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland. According to Chandler, it was popular as a soldier’s food because it keeps well without refrigeration and comes in single servings.
Kasespatzle — Bayern’s take on German macaroni and cheese. It is made with Gouda and Swiss cheeses and caramelized onions.
Schnitzel — Who doesn’t like schnitzel? It is tenderized pork loin (or chicken) that is lightly breaded and pan fried. Schnitzels are available as sandwiches or meals or, for lovers of greens, the bistro has a chicken schnitzel served on a bed of mixed greens, red onion, dried cranberries, green apple slices and a lime-basil dressing.
Frikadelle — This is a meatloaf patty made with seasonings and both pork and beef.
The bistro gets it beef and pork from Montana producers and tenderizes its own pork loins every day by hand. Its brats and sausages — available as meals or sandwiches — come from two of the best-known purveyors of German specialties, Uli’s Famous Sausage, an artisanal sausage maker based in Seattle, and Bavaria Sausage of Wisconsin.
Edelweiss makes its own potato salad and brines its own sauerkraut. The potato salad is served warm and is made with vinegar and butter, giving it a different flavor than American versions made at home. The sauerkraut has a special twist: pineapple.
And of course, the house-made pretzels are particularly popular. Chandler said they’re made about three times a week, 64 pretzels at a time. Diners can try them with the obatzda cheese spread, with butter and fresh chives, or with a lineup of mustards — sweet and hot, stone ground, Maui onion, classic yellow or a crowd favorite, cranberry. Pretzel bread for sandwiches is also made in the bistro’s “pretzel palace” kitchen.
On a cool day, a bowl ($6) or cup ($4) of Udo’s Dragon Soup might hit the spot. It’s a Hungarian-style stew with beef, bacon and vegetables simmered in a slightly spicy broth. It’s named after Udo, who was a chef and is a regular patron and good friend of Bayern, Chandler said. The reference to a dragon comes from Bayern’s Dragon’s Breath beer, a dark hefeweizen used in the stew.
Yes, Oktoberfest is different this year, Chandler said. Bayern usually taps its wooden barrels at celebrations in Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Great Falls and elsewhere, but this year wanted to follow all recommended health guidelines.
“We want to keep everyone safe,” she said. “It wouldn't be the same as what people expect in years past.”
Still, Bayern’s seasonal Oktoberfest beer is available and goes well with any dish at the Edelweiss Bistro, which has an outdoor seating area and a fire pit that can take the chill off a fall evening. Next, the brewery will have its winter beers, including Groomer, Doppelbock and Face Plant.
To that, we say Prost!
Mea Andrews is a retired Missoulian reporter and editor whose foods column appears twice a month in the paper. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.