Your Own Personal Oktobertfest
Around the time I learned to meet friends under the clock at Holmes’ for lunch at one of the Creole restaurants, I also found a jewel of a different nature nestled downtown on the streetcar line near Canal Street. It had fireplaces and chimneys, fans in the ceiling and beer steins all around. Some dishes spoke of New Orleans, yet some had names such as schnitzel and wurst. Nonetheless they were delicious and, better yet, carried an affordable price.
Kolb’s German Restaurant, which opened in 1899, ladeled out some of the best bargain meals in town before closing a century later. My favorite was German short ribs, a hearty dish of braised beef ribs with assorted vegetables in gravy. Although I was just beginning my culinary journey in life, I worked and worked to copy the dish at home. Finally, I was successful enough to serve it to guests although it took several hours to simmer the ribs to just the right tenderness.
There were always vegetables with Kolb’s heavy meat dishes, but that proved no problem for Conrad Kolb, who owned several farms in St. Charles Parish. He and many German immigrants grew vegetables in the rich earth along the river to supply the farmers’ markets and restaurants in New Orleans. The area became known as the German Coast, and many descendants of original settlers still live there. Not only did Kolb grow produce for his restaurant, he added other attractions to his place of business at 125 St. Charles Ave. In the early 20th century, the white tablecloth restaurant featured live bands and dancing. Tyrolean orchestras played in costume, and diners often joined in singing German folk songs and performing the chicken dance. Its upstairs balcony became a coveted spot for parade viewing.
As its facade was a blend of German and Creole – for example, a Bavarian tavern in wrought iron frills – so was its menu: Borscht next to oysters in Hollandaise. Some dishes combined both influences. Take pumpernickel bread pudding for instance.
I always think of Kolb’s when it’s time for Oktoberfest. It was the place to go to celebrate this popular German festival but sadly, its days ended in 1994. I’m bringing out my short ribs recipe to celebrate my own Oktoberfest this year. A little red cabbage on the side and some steins of good German beer ought to do it. Now, if only I can remember how to do that snappy chicken dance.
GERMAN SHORT RIBS
4 pounds beef short ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14-ounce cans beef broth
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup baby carrots
1 dozen new (small) potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup pearl onions, trimmed of stems and roots
12 baby portabello mushrooms
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 16-ounce package wide egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
Cut short ribs between bones into 4-inch pieces. Trim off excess fat and season heavily with kosher salt and ground pepper. Dredge in flour.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy pot. Over a high heat, brown half the ribs well on all sides and remove from pot. Repeat with other half, adding the other tablespoon of oil when needed. Reduce heat and add chopped onion and garlic and sauté briefly. Return ribs to pot. Add broth and wine, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, thyme, brown sugar and dry mustard. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until beef is tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
With a large spoon, skim fat from top. Taste gravy and adjust seasonings. Add carrots, potatoes and pearl onions and continue simmering, covered, until vegetables are fork tender – about 45 minutes.
In a cup, mix 2 tablespoons flour with some of the liquid from the pot until all lumps dissolve. Add to the pot through a strainer, stirring constantly until gravy has thickened. Add mushrooms and parsley and cook about 10 minutes longer.
Serve over wide egg noodles.
GERMAN RED CABBAGE
1 large red cabbage
6 slices bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup water
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly grated black pepper to taste
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
Discard tough outer tough leaves of cabbage. Cut in half. Cut out and discard stem. Shred the cabbage by cutting thin slices with a sharp knife. Slice through cabbage several times. Rinse and drain.
Cut bacon into 1-inch slices and sauté in a heavy pot until almost browned. Add onion and sauté a few minutes more. Add cabbage and all remaining ingredients except apple, cover and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes. Add apple and simmer 45 minutes more. Adjust seasonings.