Bavaria’s most famous festival conjures images of overcrowded beer tents filled with stumbling tourists in their kitsch Lederhosen, but it wasn’t always so. Indeed, Oktoberfest had a regal origin 200 years ago, as the public celebration of the October wedding of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. (The festival crept into mid-September to take advantage of warmer weather.)
For those who wish to pay their respects to Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese without braving the Munich crowds, it’s possible to enjoy more low-key versions of the festival all over the United States. Rich in German heritage, Chicago has several restaurants with Oktoberfest celebrations, but our favorite is Pierrot Gourmet, The Peninsula hotel’s most casual dining venue.
Don’t let the restaurant’s French name fool you — The Peninsula’s German-born Executive Chef Kai Lermen developed the menu with Chef de Cuisine Anthony Schmidt, ensuring a level of quality and authenticity rarely found at other American Oktoberfest celebrations.
We started with a 2009 Friedrich Becker Pinot Blanc from Pfalz, one of three wines available by the glass, which proved to be a bright and lively departure from the expected Riesling. We were also pleasantly surprised to find a dark Hefeweissbier from Weihenstephan, a favorite style of beer from a favorite Bavarian brewery.
The array of delicacies on the easy-to-share Vesper Teller made for a suitably meaty introduction to our meal. We especially enjoyed the very traditional, homey Wurstsalat (sausage salad) of julienned pickles and Lyonnerwurst, and the chunks of savory “kilometer” sausage.
But the Schwäbische Maultaschen rose to another level entirely. These large ravioli-like packages, rarely seen in American German restaurants, turned out to be much more difficult to share. Underneath melted Emmentaler cheese and a beautiful mushroom cream sauce, four al dente pasta sheets surrounded a savory filling of meat and spinach. It managed to feel decadent without being overly rich or heavy.
Dining on the Jägerschnitzel induced a similar sense of well-being. These perfectly tender, thinly pounded veal cutlets came in a delicate breading and topped with more of that wonderful mushroom cream sauce. The irregularity of the accompanying Spätzle, noodle-like dumplings typical of Swabia in southern Germany, left no doubt that they were homemade.
Only the Käsespätzle didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Rather than layering the Emmentaler cheese and caramelized onions with the Spätzle and baking it all together, the chef kept all the components separate. With the onions and cheese in discrete piles on top, it failed to blend into the gooey, decadent, mac ‘n’ cheese-style dish we love.
That quibble aside, there’s no reason not to indulge in the Teutonic treats at Pierrot Gourmet this Oktoberfest season. Diners can enjoy this menu until October 30, but for the full experience, visit between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on October 8, 22 or 29, when an oompah band provides live entertainment. Prince Ludwig himself would surely have been pleased.
108 E. Superior Street
Ph: 312-573-6749 (reservations not accepted)
–The Andrew Harper Travel Office