Restaurants Turn Focus to Oktoberfest Flavors


An Oktoberfest theme, featuring a beer called OctoberFest, based on a menu item actually starring in Germany. Darryl Mickler, the senior director of research and development at Hard Rock International, admits this was one limited-time offering that didn’t need to stretch the brand’s creative outlets. “It’s a match made in heaven,” he says, simply.

When it comes to the German celebration, which ran from September 19 to October 4 in Munich, sometimes it’s best not to overcomplicate things. Hard Rock’s promotion of The Samuel Adams OctoberFest Schnitzel Burger pays homage to its Munich location’s Local Legendary Schnitzel Burger. In the planning stages, Mickler says it was important to keep sight of the authentic flavors patrons crave this time of year, but also finding a way to twist the recipe to keep it fresh. The partnership with Samuel Adams gave Hard Rock an immediate direction.

“It was natural to evolve the item a little bit so that it pairs well with Samuel Adams OctoberFest,” he explains. “We went back and forth with their brew experts and their brewmaster, talking about the flavor profile of it.” The result was a lightly-breaded tender pork schnitzel, a Samuel Adams OctoberFest-infused beer cheese sauce, smoked bacon, sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, and fresh arugula, served on a pretzel bun. Getting to that point, while clear in concept, took plenty of foresight. Mickler says they wanted to elevate every ingredient, and spent time making sure details, such as picking arugula over iceberg lettuce, and testing different pretzel buns, brought everything together. Not to mention, keeping it streamlined enough so their many units could easily replicate the creation.

It helped in this case that Hard Rock had featured the item in its World Burger Tour previously, and already had the recipe in place in many kitchens. “With that hint of fall in the air, guests are looking for some of those bigger flavors, such as sauerkraut and bacon, bigger beer flavor notes. All those play out very nicely here,” Mickler says of the item, which is a continuation of the burger and beer pairings Hard Rock has rolled out throughout the year, including the Rebel Legendary Burger and the Goose Island Tropical Bacon Burger.

Like Hard Rock, Butcher’s Tap in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood began with the beer. Executive Chef Sean Currie, after looking at some new brew selections coming in, decided he wanted to extend that inspiration into the kitchen.

It didn’t hurt that he spent nine years studying German as a language and has always had an affinity for the cuisine, in a town he says naturally loves “beer and brats.”

“Right away, the brat plate was happening. Then I was kind of bouncing around with different things,” he says. Currie came up with three German specials at the restaurant, which has a selection of 100 different beers and 80 tap lines. The first, as he mentioned, was a plate with a traditional style brat, German potato salad, bacon and beer sauerkraut, and whole grain mustard.

“I love cooking brats in beer, melting onions in the beer itself,” he says. “It’s kind of a nice one-pot thing and you can finish it on the grill.” Currie also brought Samuel Adams OctoberFest into the equation. “I love sauerkraut. It goes great with any sausage to be honest. What I like to do is make a general sauerkraut. Then I cook off big chunks of bacon and put the sauerkraut in with all of the bacon fat and bacon itself. Then I covered it with the Samuel Adams OctoberFest and cooked it down. It’s actually pretty interesting. It makes it a little sweet. You have that bitter, tangy, sauerkraut fatty bacon, and little sweetness of beer.”

His other two creations were a Sheboygan style brat on a bun with melted onions and a side of potato salad, and schnitzel sandwich with a potato salad or sauerkraut.

Currie took a different approach with the schnitzel, using beef instead of pork. After crafting the dishes, he laid them out and let his staff judge. One of the restaurant’s general managers, who happens to be German, provided Currie all the feedback he needed.

“Basically, he just took all the leftovers, put it on one plate, and disappeared into the office,” Currie says. “I felt pretty good about [the dishes] after that.”

Danny Klein

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