Where Y’Eat: Hoisting a stein to German New Orleans

Oct 5, 2017

We don’t hear much about German heritage in New Orleans, until October that is, when it comes at us with all the oomph of an oompah band. Suddenly you’re showing your nephew how to do the chicken dance, you’re dissecting the differences between bratwurst and weisswurst on your sausage platter and you’re proclaiming “prost!” as the foam drops another inch down your stein.  

October weather can still feel like summer here, but around town the month tastes a lot more German as restaurants roll out special menus, local brewers release seasonal Bavarian beers and fairs and fundraisers adopt the Oktoberfest theme. That includes the biggest annual Oktoberfest around these parts, the Deutsches Haus edition, which is now relocated to Bayou St. John. More on that in a moment.

But all around Louisiana, there is still a more subtle seam of German influence that persists long after the dirndl and lederhosen has been folded away for another season, and it runs through our everyday food culture.

This is something that springs from the early days of colonial immigration to Louisiana. And it continued through the 19th century, when German was a common language here and German names filled the ranks of local bakers, breweries and butcher shops.

We still call a stretch of the River Parishes the German Coast, after all, and this region is still the spiritual home of andouille. That word sounds French, but just go ahead and order andouille in France and you get a sausage stuffed with chitterlings, which I’ll describe as politely as I can as “an acquired taste.” In Louisiana, though, what we call andouille is a taste of home, a comfort food staple and the baseline flavor for gumbo and jambalaya. Our andouille is a chunky, peppery, deeply smoky pork sausage from the German tradition.

This French name on a German flavor is sort of typical in Louisiana. That panneed pork your grandmother makes for Sunday supper tastes an awful lot like the shnitzel on your Oktoberfest plate, doesn’t it?

And take a look at your po-boy. We might say it’s built on French bread, but the classic, golden, brittle-crusted po-boy loaf doesn’t look much like your French bakery shop baguette. The names of the New Orleans bakeries that produced so many of them through the years were German, and the biggest one that’s still around, Leidenheimer, was founded by a first generation German immigrant.

There is no subtly to Oktoberfest, however, and Deutsches Haus, the German cultural group, always throws the biggest Oktoberfest. This season it’s back in New Orleans, with a new location on the banks of Bayou St. John, just across from City Park. This is the same spot where the Deutsches Haus plans to build its new Bavarian-styled clubhouse and beer garden.

This year, the Oktoberfest grounds are still a blank slate, but you’ll find all the traditional food, the beer, the oompah and the chicken dance here, now with a view of the bayou. If German food culture usually feels a bit veiled in this town, this new location for Oktoberfest is putting it all out in the open. 

Deutsches Haus Oktoberfest

1700 Moss St.

Oct. 6 and 7, Oct. 13 and 14, Oct. 20 and 21

Fridays, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Admission: $8 (12 and under free)

See details and band schedules at oktoberfestnola.com