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Oktoberfest

I happily attended Oktoberfest this weekend.

Fest

It’s a vast improvement over last year. Last year, tents were huddled behind orange fencing, penning the whole event into a tiny space as if to say: it’s too cold to enjoy the outdoors. This year, the whole event is more spacious, with a central walkway between a food tent, a beer tent, a kettle corn tent, a tent for the MPR Current (can we get that up here yet?), an area for bean bag games and feats of strength and, of course, the dance tent.

Last year, the aesthetic was one not unlike the Brewhouse that sponsors this Oktoberfest:
an efficiency of space;
a kitsch bordering on, but just barely stopping short of, silly (although last year, the young ladies in their faux barmaid uniforms were a sexist disappointment — less of that this year);
a belief that quality food and drink will define the experience.

[This is the same aesthetic defines the success of the Red Star and may explain some of the relative struggles of the Burrito Union, in a certain way. They had too much space to start!]

This year, it’s as if the folks at the Brewhouse recognized — hey, this is a festival at the most gorgeous outdoor space in Duluth. It can be more than it was. And they made it into that.

And nowhere would that clear than in the quality of the food. I spent some time talking to Jeff, the “food dude” in Brewhouse newsletters and pr materials. From 250 feet away, one foot for every pound, anyone can tell that I love food. But this was no mere festival fare. (I was at Pride and at Harvest fests, and so I can tell mere festival fare at 100 paces.) I had a brat with kraut, German potato salad, and Ginger cookie, while my wife had the rosemary chcken, potato salad and cookie. We shared a pretzel. The entire mountain of food cost us $20 — and it was a mountain of food. I was literally concerned for the structural integrity of the plate.

Kate loved the rosemary chicken, and I think the secret was in the name — how much more awesome to eat a festival chicken not defined by its method of cooking (“broasted” or “fried”), but by its taste. It tasted awesome. The German potato salad was warm — I hate it when people bring a container of potato salad from SuperOne to a picnic and miss out on the detail that German potato salad is warm. As a result, you get the tang of the salad but a kind of warm, comfort-food feeling — just right when you are eating in a tent on a chill September night.

The cookie was a special treat. Ginger cookie — not ginger snap, but a cookie with just enough crisp, just enough chew, to bring out the flavor. Jeff told me that the recipe is one he won’t even write down, much less share.

The Pretzels. At a festival, I normally douse my pretzel in nacho cheesiness or mustardiness. You need something to hide the feeling that your pretzel was squirted through a jet and tangled by machines — the flavorlessness that is embodied by Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse…

Assemblyline theme from \"Powerhouse\"

These pretzels, warm as we received them, were amazing. My wife and I “shared” one — I put share in quotation marks because it wasn’t really sharing, it was grudgingly giving your life partner half. Jeff is the kitchen manager at the Brewhouse, but he also rolled more than a thousand of these pretzels himself. That is one of the reasons that the food offerings at Oktoberfest are really one of the best reasons to attend — unlike a lot of other fests in town, this menu is concocted locally by one of our more gifted kitchen craftsmen. (Yes, you can get “better” food at 301, but here’s the point: I handed over a $20 bill and had leftovers to take home from Oktoberfest. Jeff is taking festival fare at Oktoberfest [and pub food at the Brewhouse], and within the price point limitations of festival food and burger joints, he’s giving us something awesome.)

Other reasons are the music, of course. The band last night did the most important thing I think you can do: make the audience think that, though you have no doubt played that last polka 2000 times since January, every time, it’s just as much fun for the band as the dancers.

One more reason: one of the folks at the food tent recognized my wife and I as the “pelican guy” — on Facebook, my wife and I noted that we drove a pelican to the WRC in St Paul for medical care. (It didn’t make it — it died in care.) It turned out that we were buying our dinner from folks who were former volunteers with Wildwoods (and a lot of ex-volunteers are still supporters, doing indirect work like helping Wildwoods connect to vendors who offer a discount on needed goods, or securing materials for release cages — all help matters in the nonprofit world).

In short, I think that the Brewhouse is lucky that the best and brightest in our community work for them. They attract waitstaff and festival help from among the brightest and energetic and most committed to making Duluth a great place to live, and they bring that joy to a cold, drafty food tent on a Friday night. And they attract a “food dude” who does something rare in any city: he gives us an immensely satisfying and filling dining experience at a price point that still gives us change in our pocket. The Brewhouse is lucky to have them.

And we are lucky that they share them with us at what is growing into a highlight of my Fall. Swing by Oktoberfest if you can this weekend.

15 Comments

Andrew Slade

about 3 years ago

Hey, Pelican guy... First, I went to Oktoberfest for the pretzels, and they were pretty good. Took me about ten minutes to eat one, which is about right. Second, come check out the pelican on Park Point: http://northshore-thereandback.blogspot.com/2011/09/big-lake-bigger-bird-park-point-pelican.html

Claire

about 3 years ago

Wow sorry i am missing OctoberFest this year, I will be sure to hit it next year, after reading this rave review!

ruby2sd4y

about 3 years ago

I concur about the festival layout. It was nice that you didn't have to traipse across the whole of Bayfront to get to the tents this year. Much nicer to take advantage of the vendor area and cluster everything conveniently right there. When the festival grows larger ( It already seemed like there were many more people there this year than last), they'll have all that extra space to grow into as well. As for food I had the delicious beer cheese soup and a pretzel - same as last year, cuz I was looking forward to it's cheesy warm goodness. I make my own pretzels all the time, so I can tell when one is worth it, and these certainly are tasty. My friend had the brat with kraut and a ginger cookie. I had a bit of her cookie and also agree that they are delicious. Brats, well, you can get them anywhere, so they were really nothing special. Brat's for $4 is ok, but an extra $1 for kraut which is normally damn cheap to buy (and at most venues included out with the condiments), seemed a bit much, but that's just me - I've worked with food/in the food service and know kraut is not a huge expense, and not everyone even eats/enjoys it. I reckon cabbage/kraut is cheap enough and should just be included. If it were cheese, that'd be a different story. By the sounds of it, next year I'll have to try the chicken dinner for sure. I was kind of expecting to see more German fare, such as pork and dumplings, other German sausages/wursts, or spaetzel, strudel and more, but maybe in years to come we will. It's only the second year and there is much room for growth. Maybe a competition such as the chili cook-off only with German foods! Oh, and I like the costumes on both the women and the men both last year and this, and never saw them as sexist. IMHO: The kettle korn guy looked bored and out of place, and maybe would have done better up at Chester or at the Hillside Fest. *shrugs* Anyway, it was fun to return this year, and see the changes, and enjoy some of the brews again, as well as the music. Can't wait til next year! Although, I do find it funny calling it Octoberfest in September - several others commented on that as well, and about there already being an Octoberfest at G-mas, and in the courtyard at Fitger's. But, they're all a bit different, aren't they.

Shane

about 3 years ago

Oktoberfest has been held in September for 200 years.

Nathaniel

about 3 years ago

Fond-du-Luth casino has even got in on the German nostalgia by turning on the spotlights every night to look for American bombers.

David Beard

about 3 years ago

My wife loves the Pelicanblog!

Claire

about 3 years ago

We were wondering why the searchlights were crisscrossing the skies last night.

Carla

about 3 years ago

I also like the local food idea. Most festivals have your mini donuts, your funnel cakes, your Peruvian flute band, etc. I wish we could get some permanent huts down there that locals could rent out to do food things in instead of being subjected to the trailer/carnie culture.

Icantbelieveitsnotben

about 3 years ago

Hammerschlagen! I had a great time. Everyone was singing along to the music and chatting amicably with each other. Good food, good beer and a warm and inviting atmosphere. I'll definitely be back next year. Those damned spotlight however...

jamie

about 3 years ago

Chmielewski Funtime Band rules!

Swan

about 3 years ago

I may still be a bit drunk from Oktoberfest, but wow, what a great time. I missed last year's festival but drove 4 hours for this year's and it was well worth it. First off, thank you to the Brewhouse and Bayfront staff for hosting a well organized and authentic German Oktoberfest. Hay bales, blue and white checkered table cloths, banners, mas drinking steins, games, costumes, music etc are just like Germany and not the cheesy schtick found at other festivals. Their beer was excellent as always and the food was really good, particularly the rosemary chicken and pretzels. I heard criticisms of last year's layout, but this year's seemed to flow very well, though a few more fire rings would be nice for next year's event. The games were popular and I played more than 30 rounds of kubb, met dozens of nice people and had a really good time. It was a family event and despite the copious amount of drinking, I witnessed nothing negative at all. People were really well behaved, friendly and having a good time. My two friends from Winona who came up with me had a blast and were amazed how cool and friendly everyone in Duluth were to them. The only negative thing was a four hour drive home with a painful hangover and that stupid "Chicken Dance" polka song stuck in my head.

Food Dude's Sister

about 3 years ago

The "Food Dude:" that's my brother! Sounds like another very successful Oktoberfest celebration. I knew that our German heritage would come in handy one of these days. So proud of you, Jeff! Way to go!

Liz

about 3 years ago

I so agree, it is time to get MPR's The Current in Duluth already! I didn't make it to Oktober Fest this year, but my boyfriend went with his family and they had a great time.

Bad Cat!

about 3 years ago

Regarding the Current: MPR's new president is coming to Duluth on October 11th. Anyone who has something to say (like "Where the hell is my Current already?!?") should get tickets and show up: MPR Connects! Duluth.

ruby2sd4y

about 3 years ago

Thanks for the link Bad Cat!. And, until The Current is finally here, I'll keep listening online.

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