Oktoberfest, the Real German Deal, at Cafe Passé

September 13, 2011

By Teya Vitu


Anybody who’s gotten a taste of Oktoberfest in Germany knows the American variant falls way short.

Michelob Lite  and Bratwurst from Safeway do not grace the beer tents in Munich. They don’t pass through the door of Sabine Blaese’s Café Passé on 4th Avenue either.

Yes, Blaese stems from Germany herself, not that far away from Munich, and she will be staging her own mini-Oktoberfest at her five-year old cafe the weekends of Sept. 17-18, Sept. 24-25 and Oct. 1 from noon to 9 p.m.

“We really are trying to make it as Oktoberfest as possible,” Blaese said. “If you’re wanting to recreate Oktoberfest, you can only do it with the food. If your food is not authentic, it’s not Oktoberfest.”

This will be Café Passé’s first Oktoberfest and it will easily be Tucson’s most authentic Oktoberfest, stocked with German beers and all food prepared very much in the German manner.

You think you know what a pretzel is all about? That potato salad is a cubed potato mayo mush? Yellow is a mustard type? Banish the thought of all of the above.

The Café Passé Oktoberfest means sausage with eye-popping flavor, potato salad made with oil and vinegar, a Bauernbrot farmer’s bread with a firm density “that is crispy and dark on the outside and soft inside, but not airy like French bread.” Translation: dense bread.

Think of Americanized German food as black & white and the real German food as Technicolor.

There will be plenty of German mustard (Löwensenf and  Düsseldorfer) and vinegar, two primary food groups in Germany.

“They love their vinegar and mustard,” Blaese said.

Café Passé, 415 N. 4th Ave, has always had the perfect Oktoberfest setting with the trees and wood tables out back. On the Oktoberfest weekends, the staff for the first time will be attired in the classic Bavarian Oktoberfest attire of Lederhosen and Dirndls. That’s the gents in leather pants and the ladies celebrated in bodice, blouse, full skirt and apron.

“Half the staff is superexcited and the other half is horrified,” Blaese admitted.

Beer, of course, will be the focal point. Blaese is still debating which German beer to serve on tap and which to serve bottled. The three finalists are Spaten, Erdinger and Weihenstephaner.

But eating is as much a part of beer drinking. And eating there will be done at Café Passé, with the potato salad and Wurstsalad (sausage salad) recipes straight from Blaese’s mother in Schwäbisch-Gmünd, in the Swabia region of southern Germany about two hours west of Munich, closer to Stuttgart.

The German potato salad is deceptively simple: small yellowish potatoes, onion, parsley, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar.

The Wurstsalad, no surprise, is a German-specific specialty. Blaese is going with thinly sliced German cold cuts – Fleischkäse and Lyoner, Swiss cheese, baby pickles (cornichons), pepper, parsley and a vinegar dressing where Blaese “adds something unique but I’m not going to tell you what it is.”

The sausages are all coming from The German Sausage Company in Phoenix. They get a ringing endorsement from Blaese.

“Let me tell you, they are phenomenal,” she said. “It’s the real thing what they are doing. It smelled like they make all their sausage in-house.”

There will be Bratwurst and Weisswurst, the latter a “white” sausage made with veal, pork and parsley. Blaese describes it as a “very underwhelming flavor” but when “served right, it’s absolutely devine.”

Bratwurst may be far more familiar to the American – but not the German Bratwurst.

“It has lots of a flavor,” Blaese said. “Most Bratwurst in America is fairly bland. (German Bratwurst) are a little on the salty side.”

In the bread family, bread and pretzels are coming from the Old Heidelberg German Bakery in Phoenix. The bread dough will be fashioned in Phoenix, frozen, and the bread baked in Blaese’s oven.

The German pretzels can be distinguished from the ballpark pretzel, too. The twisty part is thin and crispy and the big part is doughy. The pretzels will be half baked in Phoenix, frozen, and then finished off in Blaese’s oven for absolute freshness.

“Or else there is no point in serving pretzels,” she said. “Pretzels are only good for one day.”

One particular Swabian specialty Blaise will serve is Zwiebelkuchen, awkwardly translated as “onion cake” and equally awkwardly described by Blaese as “a little bit like a quiche.”

It starts with a Quarkteig crust made with sour cream and layered with carmelized onion, caraway seeds, salt and pepper.

“It’s a little crispy and rather flat,” she said.

All this may sound like rather odd food, but this is the sort of stuff they serve up with the massive glasses and stein of beer in Munich – and now in Tucson at Café Passé, too.

“Every American I’ve ever met who went to Germany loves the food. I know there’s a demand,” she said, acknowledging that all German restaurants in Tucson closed in the 2000s. “Nobody’s here to represent the German kitchen any more. The philosophy is if it tastes good, it’s good for you. Food is celebrated. It’s not something to be afraid of.”