Oktoberfest has its roots in Munich, where it began as a wedding celebration for German Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese in October 1810. More than 200 years later, the annual festival still takes place in Munich, kicking off with the tapping of a beer keg produced within the city limits, followed by weeks of partying. Oktoberfest has become a big deal in the U.S. too, as restaurants have adopted the event as an excuse to promote seasonal brews. But this year, food also seems to be grabbing the menu spotlight, as operators try to build traffic around items that go beyond—and complement—those steins of beer. Here are seven ways restaurants are giving Oktoberfest more culinary flavor.
1. Taking it to the streets
Revolution Brewing has held Oktoberfest celebrations for the past couple of years, but this fall, it is moving the festivities outside onto Logan Square, the epicenter of Chicago’s hipster neighborhood. The two-day event (Sept. 29 and 30) features music, the brewery’s extensive selection of seasonal beers on draft and a street food-inspired brewpub menu. Along with the expected bratwurst on a bun, there’s a butterkase grilled cheese sandwich, pulled pork and smoked brisket sandwiches, roast chicken quarters over kraut, cold German potato salad and the addition of currywurst and doner kebab—two global street foods—from partnering restaurant, Donermen.
2. Celebrating at the casino
The culinary team at Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip, Wash., is tapping into Oktoberfest’s German food tradition—and raising it a few points. The Taste of Tulalip showcases items including beer and cheese soup with a Bavarian pretzel crouton, savory Bavarian pretzel bread pudding with mustard caraway rye cream, and pork schnitzel pops topped with bacon and wild mushroom cream sauce. Craft beers from local breweries and larger-scale producers are available to wash it all down. While the Taste of Tulalip ($45 all-inclusive) was a one-day event held on Sept. 22, several of the menu items will be available at casino restaurants through Oct. 31.
3. From soup to nuts
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant builds its seasonal promotion around its Oktoberfest Lager, available in draft pints, growlers and four-packs, pairing it with an extensive German-influenced food menu. The brewpub chain features eight Oktoberfest-themed LTOs, including butternut squash soup with spiced creme fraiche; Huhner Schnitzel with haricots verts and almonds; Oktoberfest Egg Rolls, a mashup of bratwurst, sauerkraut, cheddar and green onions with beer-mustard sauce; and an apple-raisin bread pudding with rum sauce for dessert.
4. Beer, brats and rock ’n' roll
Rocktoberfest runs from Oct. 6-22 at Rock & Brews, the concept co-founded by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS. The chain is serving up limited-time offers of German-style specialties that don’t veer too far from the American mainstream. Chicken schnitzel (a breaded chicken cutlet) is menued as a platter or as a sandwich on a sourdough roll with lemon herb aioli, while the bratwurst sandwich comes on the chain’s signature Bavarian pretzel rolls. Sides include potato salad and braised red cabbage. Several Bavarian beers are available for $12 a stein.
5. Oktoberfest on the Jersey shore
From Sept. 29 to Oct. 22, Asbury Park, N.J., pulls out all stops for its annual Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten. Highlights include weekend pig roasts, imported beers from five of the six official Munich Oktoberfest breweries and polka music. But the organizers pull out all stops on Oct. 9, with a new four-course Oktoberfest Bier Dinner ($40). Included is an assortment of charcuterie with bretzel; cream of potato soup with kielbasa and chives; and pork belly roulade with kraut, roasted potatoes and apple cider sauce. The "incredibly delicious dessert" course is yet to be determined.
6. Brat of the moment
Fast casual Hannah’s Bretzel doesn’t serve beer, but from mid-September through Oct. 15, the “uber sandwich maker,” as this local Chicago chain calls itself, is menuing an Octuberfest sandwich. The item layers German-style bratwurst on an organic pretzel baguette, topped with honey whole-grain mustard, caramelized onions and housemade sauerkraut. Authenticity is the strong suit here, as the menu states that the kraut recipe comes from the German-born mother of Hannah's Bretzel’s founder.
7. Globalizing hot dogs and burgers
Several chains are giving those all-American favorites—hot dogs and hamburgers—a German twist in honor of Oktoberfest. Gold Star Chili is offering up an Oktoberfest Cheese Coney, a bratwurst sausage on a hot dog bun topped with chili, sauerkraut, shredded cheddar and spicy brown mustard. Wienerschnitzel’s seasonal launch focuses on a larger quarter-pound bratwurst—marketed as gourmet sausage—served traditional-style with grilled onions and mustard on a warm bun. And Bennigan’s Oktoberfest burger is a half-pound patty topped with cheddar cheese, seasoned grilled onions and housemade Biergarten mustard on a toasted brioche bun.