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New German fare: Smaller plates, same big flavor

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:04AM

“Are you a Jew?” the young man asked me as we sat drinking beer in Munich’s Hofbrauhaus during Oktoberfest, 1971.

“No, why?”

“Because I’m new Nazi,” the man across from me smirked, thus ending our previously pleasant conversation.

Combative interactions between Americans and Germans had tainted relations on both sides of the Atlantic throughout much of the 20th Century.

During the first World War, many German street names in Chicago were changed (though Goethe and Schiller remained), and sauerkraut was rechristened “liberty cabbage” (sound familiar?).

WWII didn’t help.

But you can’t keep a good food down, and German culture and cuisine always have had a strong presence in our city, though the fare — which is big on meat and potatoes — does suffer from a rep of being a little “heavy.” Something noticed even here, a city that traditionally embraces meat and potatoes.

At Lincoln Avenue’s Prost!, which reopened in a remodeled space in May, Chef Ian Flowers celebrates Oktoberfest throughout the month with an innovative Tuesday menu that features traditional German food in smaller courses, paired with limited-edition ales and beers.

These smaller helpings appeal to those reluctant to take down a monster platter of wiener schnitzel and potatoes.

Flowers is sticking to many traditional preparations, but with all of them he’s pushing boundaries, finessing what he calls “essentially peasant food” with a fine dining attention to presentation and detail.

His small plates include delicate mushroom strudel, short rib sauerbraten on horseradish potatoes, and pork roulade stuffed with pretzel.

Pairings for the Oktoberfest tasting menu include some very good and rare ales, such as Kulmbacher Eisbock (rated 92, “exceptional,” by Beer Advocate).

Last spring at a bar in Dresden, Saxony, now largely reconstructed after the Allied incendiary bombing of 1945, I had a rather disturbing experience.

I was enjoying an Altpieschener Spezial, and I couldn’t help but notice that two of the young Germans in our jolly group of pub crawlers ordered a “Diesel” and a “Radler,” beer and Coke and beer and Sprite, respectively.

Mistreating beer seems wrong, though the fellowship of tavern persuades one to overlook such minor eccentricities.


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