Recap: The Spread Hosts Oktoberfest

James Gribbon
Photography c/o Mike LauterbornIn America, the days of Oktoberfest are coming to a middle. The actual dates don't really matter to most of us, or anyway less than the communal enjoyment of Bavarian-inspired food and drink. The communal point may actually be the best part, I think, which is how I ended up sitting at The Spread in SoNo for their sechs gängeOktoberfest dinner on October 1st.

Those two be-umlauted words just mean "six course," as Chef Carlos Baez turned his attention to the blue checkerboard of Bavarian tradition for the open, ticketed event. Oktoberfest menus often include beer by the liter and schnitzel sandwiches the size of the plate they're served on, but the reasonable portion sizes of the tasting menu meant I didn't have to rent a surrogate stomach. 

An Oktoberfest event without bratwurst is like a night without stars, and the chef wasted no time in sending out thick slices of brat served with mustard over a potato and saurkraut pancake with apples poached in Two Roads Road2Ruin DIPA. Carefully speared and layered on the fork, the combination was sweet, sour, and tangy all at once, turned up by the spicy mustard. This one did not last long on my plate. It was also served with Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, which was easily my favorite beer of the night, and probably the best mass-market German märzen I've had. It's a difficult style of beer to make, since traditional examples walk the tightrope of 'rich, yet crisp.' The Ayinger did this beautifully: calming the mustard's bite, but cutting through the fatty 'wurst and pancake, and refreshing the palate. This was all a very good way to start.

The second course was a gruyere and beer soup, which used both bacon Thimble Island American red ale. I can only hope the soup stays on the menu, because it was legitimately fantastic, and not too thick. Small slabs of country bread accompanied the soup, and caused a stir at the big table with their very slightly sweet crust and unexpected smokey flavor. This all paired excellently with the bacon in the rich soup. The second beer of the evening turned out to Hofbräu Oktoberfest, one of the standards in the category.

Sausage and sauerkraut fritters were next up, and on their own the sausage in the fritters was overwhelmed and hidden in the batter, but they were dressed up with a little fresh snap from a topping of microgreens, and an almost Asian-style honey mustard. Spaten's märzen was the pairing here, and it is made not too far away from the beer tents of the actual Oktoberfest tents in Munich, but I've always found it to be a bit of a letdown. Your mileage may vary.

The dijon braised pork belly which made up one half of the fourth course was outstanding. Pork belly can be a bit squishy and gelatinous all the way through when it's not well prepared, but the thick cube chef Baez sent to us was firm and meaty with a pleasing skin. It was served over a generous dollop of butternut squash puree, and under a salad of purple cabbage which had retained much of its crispness. The medley of the three was worthy of The Temptations. A glass of Paulaner Oktoberfest arrived some time contemporary to the dish, and the beer was smooth, and slightly richer than the duller Spaten and Hofbrau, but the pork stole any thunder it might have had. 

Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest was the second to last beer of the night, and the only one I'll willingly order for myself besides the Ayinger. An Oktoberfest pork shank was served in jus, with salt baked baby Yukon Gold potatoes, with sides of horseradish cream, Bavarian mustard, and bacon and cheddar country bread. This was an example of how cookie cutter "meat and potatoes" can become something much more in skilled hands. It looked as good as it tasted, in my opinion, however halfway through I was lamentably reaching my personal capacity for solid food. I took a sip of beer, smeared another morsel with horseradish, and powered through anyway.

Kreppel, simply put, is the prototypical jelly donut. Our dessert course included a freshly made kreppel, stuffed with local blackberry jam, and topped with a salted caramel strudel. You can be forgiven if you let out an audible groan while reading that last sentence, because I did while eating it. I wish I could box these up and send one to each of you. The jam burst with berry flavor, and the salted caramel added both an inner child satisfying flavor and a good crunch to the texture. The breakfast of champions, this. 

I'm not a big fan of pairing sweet with sweet, or heat with heat, but the Blue Point Blueberry ale of the last course deserves more than a glancing thought. The Patchogue brewery's fruit beer doesn't look like what it is, but manages to taste like actual fresh blueberries without being cloying or syrupy about it. There is distinct beer flavor to this low-ABV brew, and I will always appreciate a brewer who doesn't try to make the equivalent of a fruit soda for people who don't like beer.

There are still plenty of 'fest events coming up. Maybe I'll see you out there.