Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Oktoberfest in Iowa

Food Tour of Iowa: Reflection: Oktoberfest in the Amana’s
This post is a slight detour from normal, but still, I think, quite an interesting experience. This past Saturday some friends and I went up to the (slightly) touristy Amish colonies of the Amana’s, which are about 10 miles West of Iowa City for the Oktoberfest celebrations. Our goals were to absorb some German culture (Lederhosen on men of a certain age and dinner menus with lots of “wurst” and “schnitzel”), have a great meal at one of their family style restaurants and sample some of the beers from local Iowa brewers (Millstream brewery, mostly). I forgot my camera, so we will have to do this without pictures. I swear that will not happen again.

4 friends and I rolled into the picturesque Amana colonies at about 5:30 on Saturday night. We had planned to go to the “actual” celebrations in the germanically named Festhalle barn, but opted out after we saw it was $8 each (!). Instead, we walked around the main street, which was just as good, if not better. We stopped by a few old time general stores, which contained such quantities of jam I have yet to see equaled in one place, as well as other predictably tourist shops (furniture makers, geode sellers). However, the town had definitely gotten into the spirit of Oktoberfest. Most restaurants had a live band (always with an accordion) and lots of outdoor seating so diners could appreciate the gorgeous autumn day, if not the tunes from the accordion.
In lieu of the ludicrously expensive official celebrations, we walked down to the Millstream brewery at the end of Main Street, which was having its own brat and beer fest. A few of my compatriots who were above the age of majority ordered the Oktoberfest lager, which they said was delicious. We browsed the amply stocked Millstream brewery shop, and then walked back uptown to get to our dinner stop, the Ox Yoke Inn. We were in a bit of a hurry to get away, as the brewery, not to be outdone, had its own band with another one of those satanic accordions.
On our way, we stopped at a “Weingarten” (wine tasting) put on by one of the local wineries. While its serene and accordion-less atmosphere attracted us, we felt slightly out place in the august atmosphere of a wine tasting. However, the proprietor was extremely willing to share his knowledge with all, even delinquent college kids. We sampled three very nice wines before heading off for our reservation.

I have to admit, I headed through the restaurant doors that night with stratospheric expectations. You see, as a small child I had been to the same restaurant, and remembered it extremely fondly: bowls of sides that were both delicious and bottomless, as well as entrees that were finger-lickingly good. My friends had spent the hour-long car ride and subsequent walk around town listening to me gush hyperbole about never-ending sides and chicken that was “like, so good!” Needless to say, we were all ready by 6:30 to see what the reality on the ground was.

I am pleased to say that the visit did not disappoint. The sides at the Ox Yoke Inn are refilled as you empty them, and come free with the meal. One passes them around family style. We were provided with a breadbasket, cottage cheese, corn, scalloped potatoes and sauerkraut. They were OK- the cottage cheese was the best by far. It had a distinctly cheesy flavor that was subtle but memorable. We all agreed that it was delicious, and that more cottage cheese should have that much flavor.

For my main course, I got the barbequed ribs, which were delicious. Tender and falling off the bone, I thought it was the best choice. Others in my party got the fried chicken, a wurst plated (knockwurst and bratwurst), and a schnitzel. The chicken, despite being a favorite of my Mom’s, was merely good. The wurst plate was OK, but most disappointing was the schnitzel: greasy and gravy covered, it had almost no flavor, relative to the other entrees.

Overall, the dinner was a great success. Everyone had a great time, and despite my critiques, everyone was very happy with the food. At the end, however, there was definitely a sense of sticker shock- the meal came out to around 15-20 bucks a person! In my mind, an excessive amount for a fairly simple meal.

For desert, we went a block away to the Chocolate Haus, where I got a candied apple with caramel, chocolate and walnuts. Verdict: delicious. The apple was great, and you cannot go wrong with copious amounts of chocolate and candy. My friends got some truffles (very good) and some divinity, which I had never heard of, seen or tasted before. Apparently, it is a mix of eggs and sugar. Anyway, it was also excellent. On the hour-long drive home, we essentially passed out into a coordinated food coma. A great evening.

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