Article written by Cincideutsch
Cincinnati has always touted its strong German heritage, celebrating it in festivals throughout the year. But why wait until Oktoberfest to get your fix on delicious, German cuisine? In the past year, many new business owners have asked the same question, responding by opening new German-inspired restaurants and breweries throughout Greater Cincinnati. So what’s driving this reacquaintance with German gastronomy? We asked a few of these new business owners to find out—
GREG HARDMAN, MOERLEIN LAGER HOUSE
Since purchasing Christian Moerlein Brewing Company in 2004, Greg Hardman has worked diligently to make Cincinnati’s brewing heritage accessible to today’s craft beer drinker. He embarked on a plan to return Cincinnati to the traditions of the 19th and 20th century that made the city a great pioneer in the brewing industry. Milestones have included the return of Cincinnati’s heritage brands, which had been dispersed throughout the Midwest, the return of production to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine Brewery District (March 2013) where freshly brewed craft beer is now served in a newly opened taproom (May 2013), and the opening of the Christian Moerlein Lager House on the Ohio riverfront last year (February 2012).
Find many of Cincinnati’s heritage brand and unique brews freshly made at the Lager House. © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
Greg Hardman (left) at the Moerlein Lager House. © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
To fully understand the significance of these recent achievements, it’s important to have a grasp on the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company’s influential history. The brewery originally opened as a joint venture by Adam Dillman and a successful blacksmith, Christian Moerlein, who came to America with a mere $12.00 in his pocket and had acquired his knowledge of brewing while assisting his uncle in his hometown of Truppach, Bavaria. Since its modest beginnings catering to the local market in Cincinnati, the company became an industry pioneer in multiple arenas. In the 1880s, Moerlein received top awards for innovation in advertising and quality at expositions throughout the country. At the time of Moerlein’s death in 1897, it was the largest brewing company in the state of Ohio and soon became the only Cincinnati brewery that exported internationally. Upon Christian Moerlein’s post-prohibition revival by the Hudepohl Brewing Company in 1984, the Christian Moerlein Select Lager became the first American beer to pass Germany’s Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law of 1516), meaning that the lager became the first American beer able to be sold in Germany.
The Christian Moerlein Lager House continues in this tradition, marking just one of the many great successes in the 160 year history of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company. Greg explains that it stands as a celebration of accomplishments made by immigrants like Moerlein who adopted Cincinnati as their home. The menu reflects this, drawing inspiration from Cincinnati’s 19th century cuisine. Not unlike at the brewing company, its offerings and verbiage have been refined to appeal to today’s audience.
Signature items, like the OTR Half Chicken, have a German flavor to them. Best paired with the Lager House Helles and a side of spaetzle (dumplings), this dish is a rotisserie-style chicken akin to that served at the Oktoberfest in Munich. Brotzeit (meat and cheese) plates are also available. Literally translating to “bread time,” this light meal consists of a variety of hard salamis, cheeses, and fresh breads. All sausages at the restaurant are made specifically for the Lager House. Favorites like the helle Bierwurst are made at Cincinnati’s very own Avril Bleh & Sons Meat Market, and the sweet, caramelly Hudepohl Bierwurst is made at Queen City Sausage. During our visit, we even had the pleasure of meeting one of the sous-chefs, who confirmed for us that all menu items are freshly prepared— everything from the creamy mashed potatoes to the tender pork shank.
Brotzeit © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
Pork Shank © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
Aside from the menu, the floor plan of the Lager House is reminiscent of a German beer garden and opens itself to Smale Park during warm weather months. These open spaces connect the Lager House to the community, providing the opportunity for events like the truly authentic Oktoberfest experience at the Überdrome. Described as on par with Munich’s Oktoberfest by those who have visited both, the Überdrome features a menu of items from the Lager House in addition to strudels and pretzels by Servatii’s, live entertainment, and a variety of special Oktoberfest beers.
The Überdrome tent was pitched at Smale Park, adjacent to the Lager House. You will find celebrations there once again during Oktoberfest season. © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
Overall, the Christian Moerlein Lager House is not simply an expression of Cincinnati’s history. Rather, the experience is the realization of the city’s return to its brewing traditions—a monument to the legacy of both yesterday’s and today’s pioneers.
NATE CHAMBERS, WUNDERBAR
After being inspired by the rich, German heritage of Cincinnati, Wunderbar opened on April 6, 2012 as your traditional neighborhood bar with a twist.
Nate (co-owner) and Amanda (bar manager) focused on their wish to provide quality food at affordable prices. Without a set menu, one will find their offerings written daily on the chalkboard above the bar. They strive to use the freshest of local products and inspiration. On the day of Cincideutsch’s visit, special sausages of the day were vegetarian and a Mexican-style wurst called “Guttierez,” named after the deli/grocery across the street.
Wunderbar’s chalkboard menu changes daily to stay “fresh.” © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
The majority of Wunderbar’s wurst is made in-house—everything from grinding, seasoning, and casing. If not made at the restaurant, sausages are prepared by local meat markets. A homage to German wurst is their signature item—the curry wurst—paired with a side of well-seasoned Brussels sprouts. The unique spin on this traditional dish from Berlin is that the curry actually seasons the sausage, rather than being served only in the sauce.
Other nods to German gastronomy come in the form of freshly baked pretzels—which are HUGE—and homemade mustards, which are often made to pair with specialty sausages. We sampled a traditional sweet mustard, teriyaki, feuer (fire), and horseradish mustard. Other flavors range from black pepper to cilantro lime mustard.
Curry wurst, brussel sprouts, pretzels. © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
Homemade mustards, sausages, and pretzels. © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
What would a good pub be without its beer? Keeping to its theme of championing German and local products, the Wunderbar rotates its beer selections with each order from the distributor. Currently they keep three beers on tap, but they are looking to add at least three more and offer at least twelve different bottled beers from Germany.
Cincideutsch members enjoying the beer garden. © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
Four-legged family members are also welcome at the beer garden. © 2013 Lisa K. Bambach
To join in the “Gemütlichkeit” of the Wunderbar, one can visit Tuesday-Sunday starting at 11:30am. They often offer live music and karaoke and the kitchen stays open until 9pm (Sunday-Wednesday) and to 10pm (Thursday-Saturday or later depending on demand).
For a full list of German restaurants and breweries in Cincinnati, established and new, visit cincideutsch.com/restaurantsBreweries.php. To learn more about upcoming German events throughout the city, visit cincideutsch.com.