Oktoberfests worldwide took a hiatus this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but don’t put away your lederhosen just yet. Texas has a rich German heritage—plus all the delicious food that comes with it—and autumn’s idyllic weather provides the perfect excuse to road-trip around the state discovering it. And best of all, many of these Teutonic watering holes are still celebrating Oktoberfest with drink specials and socially distanced live music performances in their spacious biergartens.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Germans began immigrating to Texas in the 1830s, inspired in part by the land grants available to Europeans in Stephen F. Austin’s colony. They settled in a broad, fragmented belt across the south-central part of the state. By 1850, German immigrants and their descendants constituted more than 5 percent of Texans. After the Civil War, transplants from neighboring and Midwestern states began moving to Texas, bringing the state’s German population to around 40,000.
These days, people of German ancestry make up 11.3 percent of the state’s population, and have contributed to the Texas culinary landscape by opening butcher shops, barbecue spots, breweries, and more. The strongest German influence is still found in the Hill Country, so next time you plan an outdoor adventure or winery visit in the area, make sure your day ends with a comforting meal at one of these German mainstays.
While German food might bring to mind casual settings such as sausage houses or biergartens, Central Texas is home to several restaurants that present elevated versions of the cuisine in refined settings. Alpine Haus is one of them. The restaurant, set in a 164-year-old historic home in downtown New Braunfels, specializes in food from the Alps, with a focus on Germany. Schnitzel offerings reach beyond basics to include Rahm (cream) schnitzel (pork or chicken schnitzel topped with sour cream gravy) and Zigeuner (gypsy) schnitzel, which is a pork or chicken version topped with spicy paprika, bell pepper, and onion gravy). Other entrées include lesser-known dishes such as Rinderrouladen (beef roulades), thinly sliced steak stuffed with pickle, onion, bacon, and German mustard, smothered in gravy and served alongside spaetzle, red cabbage, and freshly baked bread. Enjoy a meal in the dining room, which features historic relics and exposed stone walls, or relax on the spacious patio, surrounded by twinkle-lit trees.251 S. Seguin Avenue, New Braunfels
In 1866, German immigrant and bookbinder August Scholz opened a public bar and cafe above a boarding house, and Scholz Garten became a favorite meeting place for Austin’s German population. More than 150 years later, it holds the impressive title of oldest operating business in the state and the oldest beer garden in America, drawing UT professors, state legislators, and game day revelers alike. The establishment has certainly gone through many changes through the years; most recently, Daniel Northcutt (formerly the owner of Frank) took over operations in 2017, adding eight sausage options to the menu of more traditional German plates. You’ll also find fun German-inspired offerings like crunchy fried sauerkraut and mashed potato balls with sour cream and mustard sauce, or the schnitzel sammy with lemon caper aioli and Rotkohl (red cabbage) on pretzel bread. The entire menu is also available for curbside pickup, and Old World Wednesdays have resumed, bringing live music back to the biergarten (and livestreamed on Facebook). Because of COVID restrictions, reservations are highly recommended, particularly on game days. 1607 San Jacinto Boulevard, Austin
Step inside the Walburg Restaurant and you’ll feel instantly transported to Bavaria. The restaurant—a former hardware and dry goods store—is what’s left of the former German American settlement known as Walburg, located just northeast of Georgetown. The airy dining room is open, with distanced tables covered in blue-checkered cloth, but the popular German buffet is no longer an option. Instead, choose from à la carte appetizers like Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes with applesauce or mushroom gravy) and Schweizer Wurstsalat (marinated knockwurst with Swiss cheese and onions) and entrées like Schweinebraten (roasted pork loin with dark beer gravy) and Hausgemachte (homemade) bratwurst (grilled sausages with sauerkraut and potato salad). To-go orders may be placed for pickup—but not after 5:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Walburg is celebrating Oktoberfest now through November 14 with live music (remember that?) in the airy biergarten, which affords plenty of room to keep social distance. 3777 FM 972, Walburg
At Krause’s in New Braunfels, you can even have schnitzel for breakfast; the Bauern(farmers) schnitzel comes topped with two eggs and hollandaise plus home fries, hash browns, and grits. Texas-German mashups can be found throughout the rest of the menu too: order Kartoffel (potato) poppers with apple sauce and sauerkraut for dipping, or elevate your sausage game with the wild game plate, which comes with wild boar, venison, and “jackalope” (rabbit and antelope) sausages plus bier mustard, cheese, pickles, and crackers. The Munich-inspired bier hall might not be packing in the crowds it used to, thanks to COVID restrictions, but live music lights up the stage every weekend, just like in the good ol’ days. 148 S. Castell Avenue, New Braunfels
Though Schilo’s proudly calls itself the oldest operating restaurant in San Antonio, it actually started as a saloon in Beeville before the Schilo family relocated to San Antonio in 1914. When Prohibition struck, Schilo’s replaced its beer kegs with root beer, enabling the family-run restaurant to keep its doors open. In 1942, the restaurant moved into its current downtown location in an old currency exchange bank and, after being run by the Schilo family through three generations, it was purchased in 1980 by the Lyons family, who still run it today. More than one hundred years after Schilo’s opened, diners can enjoy house-made sausage and wurst, schnitzel, deli sandwiches, hot pretzels, fresh-baked strudel—and that famous root beer. And though the restaurant has a somewhat limited menu because of COVID-19, you can still enjoy all-day breakfast under the antique carved ceiling tiles in the historic dining room. 424 E. Commerce, San Antonio
At Little Gretel in Boerne, chef-owner Denise Mazal and her daughter Veronica Mazal Brown specialize in central European cuisine, with selections from Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic, but with a focus on German fare. The cafe is tucked in a cozy historic home just a stone’s throw from Cibolo Creek, and features oma-approved decor like cuckoo clocks and lacy curtains. Try the Kasseler Rippchen, an in-house smoked center-cut pork chop served with fresh horseradish sauce and toasted almonds, or the Bavarian meat loaf (half lamb, half beef) with mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce. And don’t even consider leaving without ordering a side of German potato pancakes, griddled to order and topped with braised red cabbage. But you’ll also want to save room for the namesake Gretel’s apple strudel with Chantilly cream or Hansel’s Kisses, meringue filled with coffee cream and rolled in roasted almonds. Reservations are highly recommended for the dining room or patio, and curbside delivery is also available. 518 River Road, Boerne
After graduating from culinary school in Rheinland, chef Ingrid Hohmann opened Der Lindenbaum in a historic limestone building at the end of Main Street in Fredericksburg. Hohmann began her business as a bakery focused on traditional German desserts like apple strudel and Black Forest cake. But customers quickly latched onto her savory lunch specials, and Der Lindenbaum organically grew into a full-fledged restaurant. Now, Hohmann serves fine German dishes alongside those famous desserts. Come for tender Rheinischer sauerbraten (week-long marinated roast beef), Curry-Huhn (curried chicken), and a variety of schnitzels. In addition to the wide spectrum of beer you’d expect from a biergarten, the restaurant offers a varied selection of both German and Texan wines, which is appropriate considering its location in the heart of the Hill Country wine region. 312 E. Main, Fredericksburg
Otto’s German Bistro
While many German restaurants rely on a foundation of familiar favorites like sausage and schnitzel, Otto’s chef Henry Gutkin chooses to focus on some of the country’s lesser-known dishes, reimagined with a creative, refreshing twist. Bavarian Frittatensuppe (crepe soup) is brightened with herbs and rainbow carrots, while the Düsseldorfer Senfrostbraten (Dusseldorf mustard roast) is elevated with Akaushi steak and an onion-mustard-cheese crust. Seek Gruyère-laden comfort with the Kaesespaetzle (cheese noodles)—basically a form of mac and cheese made with spaetzle—or lighten up with a decidedly German take on flounder, served with potato salad, egg, cucumber, and tartar sauce. And while there’s plenty of beer here to keep your stein full, as well as a focus on German and Austrian wines, the exceptional cocktail menu should not go unnoticed. The downtown Fredericksburg dining room and patio are now open, with reservations strongly recommended because of COVID-19 capacity restrictions, and Otto’s at Home is offering curbside pickup when you order through Toast. 316 E. Austin, Fredericksburg
Fabi + Rosi
Tucked away in a West Austin neighborhood, Fabi + Rosi has been quietly filling its dining room with regulars since it opened in 2009—and that alone is a testament to the quality of its food. Chef-owner Wolfgang Murber sources the best possible local ingredients to artfully prepare German dishes with a modern spin—like Flammkuchen(tart) topped with speck and leeks or schnitzel made from heritage pork and topped with thick house-made spaetzle and mushroom cream sauce, accompanied by Krautsalat (coleslaw) and a slice of lemon. Also not to be missed is Murber’s house-made charcuterie, which comes on a cheeseboard. Inside a classic Austin bungalow, the design of the restaurant—much like the food—is simultaneously modern and cozy, with a romantic date-night ambiance. Several outdoor tables are tucked among trees in the front, for those who prefer outdoor dining. 509 Hearn, Austin
Henk’s Black Forest Bakery
Henk’s might be best-known for its fluffy German chocolate and Black Forest layer cakes, but the family-owned establishment is also part stein-lined restaurant and tchotchke-filled grocery store. Regulars flock there for weekday lunches to enjoy German-style deli sandwiches and meat platters featuring Kasewurst (sausage with cheese), bratwurst, knackwurst, and more. The dinner menu offers hot entrees like Kassler (smoked pork loin), veal bratwurst and Leberkase (thick sliced German bologna) with eggs. Sunday brunch means decadent treats like cheese blintzes and chicken schnitzel with waffles. But no matter what meal you come for, be sure to end with a decadent slice of a house-made cake. 5811 Blackwell, Dallas
- VERONICA MEEWES | Texas Monthly | October 26, 2020