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Thu November 7, 2013
Where Y'Eat: Bavarian Beyond October
There is nothing seasonal about weinerschnitzel or sauerkraut. But dine around New Orleans during October and you might think otherwise as these traditional German dishes are trotted around for Oktoberfest celebrations.
However, now that it’s November, and all the costume lederhosen and plastic beer steins have been stowed for the year and the last refrains of the chicken dance song are finally receding, local diners with a taste for traditional Bavarian cooking still have options.
October can be downright balmy in New Orleans, but as the season progresses and the weather grows a little cooler, these hearty German dishes become more and more appealing. A handful of local restaurants make them year-round specialties, though sometimes finding them takes a little digging.
For instance, fluffy, baked German pancakes share the breakfast menu with quesadillas at Canal Street Bistro. Then at dinner, when this eclectic Mid-City café switches to mostly upscale Mexican entrees, there’s still jeagerschnitzel, or breaded pork loin with a velvety mushroom sauce. It might seem incongruous, but the menu mix makes perfect sense to Canal Street Bistro chef Guillermo Peters, whose father was from Hamburg and whose mother was from Mexico City, where he grew up. When people ask about the menu choices in his dining room, the chef likes to joke that he’s “a Volkswagen that was designed in Germany and assembled in Mexico.”
A similar family heritage informs the menu at Voleo’s, a small seafood restaurant found near the docks in the bayou fishing village of Lafitte. It’s about a 30-minute drive from the city, and at first glance Voleo’s seems like something from Cajun cooking central casting, with boudin balls, a few different types of gumbo and mounted game on the walls. But then you notice the collection of steins by the bar, the decorative plaques showing medieval German scenes and a box on the menu calling out schnitzels, red cabbage and German potatoes. That’s a tribute to chef David Volion’s mother, Blanka Bäumler Volion, who grew up in Nuremburg in the 1950s and met David’s father Norris while he was stationed there in the Army.
German food once had a more direct route to New Orleans, which was a major destination for German immigrants through the 19th century. But traditional German cooking mostly merged into the Creole culinary equation. Today, Jager Haus German Restaurant & Bar carries the torch in the French Quarter, serving an almost exclusively German menu in a setting that feels like a Euro coffee shop.
But then there’s Lüke, the CBD brasserie chef John Besh opened in 2007. You’ll find shrimp and grits here, and an oyster bar, but next to the local flavors Lüke’s kitchen makes a major specialty of Franco-German dishes from the Alsace border region. There are big iron tureens of choucroute, a one-pot feast of sauerkraut, ham and sausage. There’s schnitzel and flamenkuchen, the traditional onion tart. And then, also, dishes like Lüke’s original interpretation of maultaschen, which traditionally resemble ravioli in broth but here becomes a sausage-like loaf of veal and spinach rolled into spirals around fried noodles in a garlicky tomato sauce. It’s a dish with German roots given a spin through a Creole kitchen. If that sounds good to you, it’s certainly not something you have to wait for October to explore again.
Canal Street Bistro
3903 Canal St., 504-482-1225; www.canalstreetbistro.com
Jäger Haus German Restaurant & Bar
833 Conti St., 504-525-9200; jager-haus.com
333 St. Charles Ave., 504-378-2840; lukeneworleans.com
5134 Nunez St., Lafitte, 504-689-2482