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Oktoberfest NW is canceled. Here’s what to do instead

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oktoberfest

Right about now every year, downtown Puyallup is a flurry of activity in preparation for the thousands of beer drinkers who usually descend on Oktoberfest Northwest, the largest pop-up beer hall gathering in the region. Thousands of pounds of schnitzel and bratwurst are ferried to the fairgrounds. Hundreds of gallons of gravy are prepped. Pretzels are proofed and piroshki is stuffed. Keg after keg is wheeled into the events center. It’s a massive undertaking to feed thousands of people for the three-day event.

Except not this year. Oktoberfest Northwest has been canceled.

You know what, though?

You can still celebrate in your own socially distant way.

Let me help you figure that out. 

sausage
A selection of sausages at the rear deli counter at Hess Bakery & Deli in Lakewood.

Here are restaurants with excellent offerings to design your own Oktoberfest at home. 

All these options are available for take-out, although some are offered as dine-in options, if that’s what you feel comfortable doing.

Below, you’ll find a local brewery-restaurant with a killer Oktoberfest menu that’s happening for a few more weeks. I’ve also got the area’s best deli for traditional German sausages and cold cuts (and it operates year-round!). And did I mention the German pastries? And the German food truck? And the schnitzel? So much schnitzel.

Me? This weekend, I’ll be designing my very own Oktoberfest at home with bratwurst from Hess, a growler of Wingman and bee sting cake for dessert.

Prost! 

sausage
A platter of delicious food at Little Radio during the restaurant’s Oktoberfest menu. Photo courtesy of Little Radio.

GERMAN EPICENTER: LAKEWOOD

German food lovers, put Lakewood on your radar if it’s not already. It’s the city that’s home to the best German eats. Here’s what you’ll find. 

BRUNO’S EUROPEAN RESTAURANT

10902 Bridgeport Way SW, Lakewood; 253-719-7181

https://www.brunoseuropeanrestaurant.com/

https://www.facebook.com/brunoseuropean

This legendary Lakewood restaurant Bruno’s European Restaurant  is where everybody goes for a taste of German-Polish food. Krystyna and Bruno Tomaszewska started their restaurant  as a pop-up stand at the Tacoma Farmers Market more than a decade ago, serving their Hangover soup and other simple German-Polish preparations. 

They’ve operated their Bruno’s European Restaurant in Lakewood, then Parkland, then Lakewood again – growing to a bigger restaurant space with each move. Their current location seats 118 and comes with a huge dining room with plenty of space for socially distant dining.

This is home cooking at its finest and when I say home cooking: I mean it. Bruno makes his own pickles. Krystyna is happy to talk about her sweet-and-sour red cabbage recipe. They stuff their own pierogi. They peel all the potatoes. They labor over the sauces. Their soups – especially the hangover and pickle soups – are so legendary, people drive 50 miles to pick them up.

Eating at Bruno’s European Restaurant is like feasting in your German-Polish grandma’s living room. Food is served in mounds, the atmosphere is unfussy and deep into the corners you’ll find some of grandma’s favorite knick-knacks straight from Germany. 

THE DINE-IN MENU 

The soups are legendary and should be a party of every meal at Bruno’s. So should the schnitzel. Schnitzels come in various configurations on the dinner menu: drenched in two kinds of gravy, served plain or gypsy style ($19.95 each). 

Dinner also includes smoked ham shank ($21.95), rouladen ($20.95), cabbage rolls ($15.95) and handmade pierogi stuffed with farmers cheese ($12.95). 

The menu is extraordinarily flexible with smaller portions perfect for seniors and those with smaller appetites; as well as those on a budget. 

One of my other favorite dishes is their potato pancakes with applesauce and sour cream ($11.95). They have a host of menu items around the $10 mark and sandwiches that don’t go above $13. There’s so much to like about this restaurant, and being budget friendly is one of them.

The wine and beer list goes deeper than any other restaurant in the area on European taps and bottles. If you feel comfortable dining in, save room for a slice of bee sting cake at the end of your meal. 

TAKE-OUT MEALS  

Just in time for Oktoberfest, they’ve got an online menu with five full take-out dinners feeding 4-6 each.

Their offerings are priced from $60 to $95. The $65 dinner pack comes with four bratwurst, frikadelle, German potato salad, red cabbage and dinner rolls with butter. Splurge on the $90 meal and you’ll get fresh-baked pretzels, beef rouladen, bratwurst, red cabbage and German potato salad.

Facebook post here with more information on take-out Oktoberfest meals. https://www.facebook.com/brunoseuropean/photos/a.108552360832607/176024737418702

Place your to-go order by phone at 253-719-7181 and be sure to order in advance if you’re eating from the take-out menu: https://www.brunoseuropeanrestaurant.com/menu#menu=oktoberfest-family-dinners

Hess
Find Hess Bakery & Deli in Lakewood.

HESS BAKERY AND DELI 

6108 Mt Tacoma Drive SW, Lakewood; 253-584-1451; http://hessbakery.com/german-bakery-deli.html

The scratch bakery at Hess Bakery and Deli produces the finest pretzels, rolls and crusty bread that you’ll find in the area. Get there early for springy kaiser rolls, crusty loaves, massive salt-crusted pretzels, pretzel rolls and long bakery rolls perfect for slicing and serving with bratwurst. Head to the back of the store and grab a number for your turn at the deli counter known for its fresh-sliced cold cuts, sliced German cheeses and a huge selection of bratwurst and sausages.

There’s also the house potato salad and other prepared deli items. In between the bakery at the front and the deli in the back, several rows offer German groceries of all kinds: booze-filled chocolates, packaged German foods, cookies, noodles, dumplings and more. To the right of the front door is a cooler filled with a giant selection of European bottled beer. This is truly a one-of-a-kind grocery, deli and bakery destination and a regional treasure. There’s no seating in the deli right now, so everything must be taken and consumed to-go, so plan accordingly.

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A selection of cakes ready to be sliced at the German Pastry Shop in Lakewood.

GERMAN PASTRY SHOP 

6108 Mt Tacoma Drive SW, Lakewood; 253-588-5777; https://www.facebook.com/German-Pastry-Coffee-Shop-117616874931160/

Right next door to Hess, but separately owned and operated, is the German Pastry Shop. This is one of the region’s tastiest destinations for cake-by-the-slice. The bakery case is filled with refrigerated cakes ready for slicing. There are plain jane flavors such as chocolate and vanilla, but also chocolate-cherry and a host of more fanciful flavors ($5.20 a slice). Whole cakes are available for custom ordering, as well. 

Just beyond the cake case, find ready-to-eat pastries such as eclairs ($4.20), streusel-topped coffee cake ($3.10), cream horns ($4.20), slices of bee sting cake or filled strudel ($3.45), puff pastry items ($2.90), and when it’s near the holidays, you can find an entire rack filled with German Christmas cookies. The German Pastry Shop has well-spaced seating for dine-in service, but the cafe and bakery specializes in to-go orders. Be sure to check out the menu of deli sandwiches ($2.80 to $5.15) and the soup ($3.60 to $4.20). 

RESTAURANTS WITH GERMAN MENUS (TEMPORARY OR OTHERWISE)

schnitzel
Schnitzel at Citron in Parkland.

CITRON EUROPEAN RESTAURANT

10716 A St., Tacoma; 253-327-5087;  https://www.facebook.com/CitronEuropeanBistro

This Parkland eatery offers its spectacular German eats year-round. Or, actually, it’s a little more precise to call it Alsatian because the restaurant features dishes from the region that melds the cuisines of Germany and France. Chef Christophe Durliat is a French-born chef who has brought a delicious slice of his native Alsace to Pierce County. 

jaeger gravy
If they ask if you want jaeger gravy on the side at Citron, your answer always should be yes. This is what shows up.

Durliat makes an exquisite schnitzel ($19) heavy on crunch and light in texture; and a rich, supple beef bourguignon ($24). Two things on the menu that should never be missed are roasted pork in any form and the restaurant’s French onion soup ($9), nudged with tarragon and served with a molten top of gooey Swiss.

Find a French-heavy wine list and dessert. You’ll appreciate the great value on the menu, but lunch even more so. If dinner’s not in the cards, then be sure to check out the bistro for lunch and dig into an outstanding version of a croque monsieur ($13.50). 

LITTLE RADIO

728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1436; https://www.littleradiotacoma.com/

Downtown Tacoma’s newest restaurant on Pacific Avenue is celebrating Oktoberfest in a big way, which makes sense considering this is the sibling restaurant to Wingman Brewers on the other side of downtown Tacoma.

Co-owner Ken Thoburn said their Oktoberfest menu goes until Oct. 18 at Little Radio. There’s a wurst board ($11.50), a giant salty pretzel from Lakewood’s Hess Bakery (see above for more details on that bakery, $10.50), schnitzel ($13.50), spaetzle and cheese ($11.50) and a pretzel brat ($10.50). All that is available for take-out or dine-in. The restaurant’s tables are well-spaced for dine-in service. 

And don’t miss out on the beer. “Our beer manager Jen Mahoney put together a taplist featuring Wingman Brewers’ Marzen,  E9’s Kolsch,  Blackfleet Brewing’s Dunkel weisse and the one non-local brew straight outta Germany; Veltin’s Pilsner,” noted Thoburn. And there’s this, “The beers are available for purchase with a festive Little Radio branded stein for here or to-go.  For to-go orders, folks can take home the stein, a 32-ounce crowler and their choice of German treats.” 

SIRIUS WOOD FIRED PIZZA

Wednesdays at Acorn Brewery (2105 Meridian Ave E, Edgewood) and Thursdays at Cockrell Hard Cider (6613 114th Ave Ct E, Puyallup), plus various other stops; check locations at https://www.facebook.com/SiriusWoodFiredPizza

While not a German food truck, Sirius co-owners Holly and Chuck Preble have a spectacular homage to their time spent in Germany when Chuck was stationed there for the Army. Their ode to Germany is their decadent flammkuchen, a pizza-style specialty served broadly in Germany. They build theirs on thinly-stretched dough and blanketed with all the richness you can imagine: fresh cream, Swiss cheese, bacon, caramelized onions and green onions. The beautiful thing about their pizzas is the wood-fueled oven on their food truck. Their Neapolitan-style pizzas are blasted at high heat, which blisters the crust to a satisfying crunch. The great news is that they often serve at breweries, which means if you hit them up in October, you can get the flammkuchen with a pint of something cold and hoppy, Germany style.

ITTY BITTY SCHNITTY

1000 Town Center NE. Tacoma; 253-202-7771; http://ittybittyschnitty.com/

Find this German-themed food truck Itty Bitty Schnitty in Browns Point. The restaurant produces the most delicious schnitzel with an unexpected pop of seasoning. This mobile restaurant is the project of Amber Cowart. Cowart’s mother was born in German and much of their family lives in Graz, Austria. As Cowart explained to me when she opened two years ago. “We’re a little closer to Hungary, so we use paprika and other spices in the schnitzel.” Find three kinds of schnitzel with cheese, gravy or plain ($10 to $12). There’s also poutine, German potato salad, sandwiches and more. The menu features frequent specials. You can pop over to North 47 brewing across the parking lot to pick up some brew. They’ve got a tent up over their outdoor seating right now.

RHEIN HAUS TACOMA 

649 Division Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-4700; https://www.rheinhaustacoma.com/view-menu

This American-German hybrid restaurant and beer hall has plenty of room for social-distancing while dining, and a sizable outdoor dining area if the weather cooperates, but if you want to take your food to-go, they will happily help you with that.

In fact, their to-go menu right now includes a Sauerbraten dinner for two that includes a pound of braised brisket, gingerbread gravy, a quart of spaetzle dumplings and a quart of braised cabbage. The meal is fully cooked. It just needs to be heated up. It’s only $30, which is a pretty good deal. For family fun, Chef Kelly Wilson also has whipped up a Gingerbread Heart Cookie Decorating Kits ($8). All of the above available for ordering from the menu link above.

cocktail
The Gilman House Fruit Cup.

LOVECRAFT THEMED RESTAURANT AND BAR NOW OPEN

Not German themed, but very much new to the area. Have you checked out Tacoma’s newest restaurant and bar? Gilman House is a Lovecraft-themed restaurant and bar in the Stadium neighborhood. Did I mention it has a killer Sunday brunch program and there are 25 specialty gin cocktails on the menu? Read more here.

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