The tent is up for Oktoberfest at Arabella Park Beer Bar (Photo: Andrew Coppolino)
Needless to say, Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest will be quite different this year with traditional festhallen closed. However, Canada’s largest Bavarian festival is re-imagining itself when it comes to food with a restaurant program – running September 25 to October 12 – that is designed to support local.
Designated as “micro-festhallen,” a number of venues will be fully in the Oktoberfest zicke-zacke-hoi-hoi-hoi spirit: for Ein Prosit eats, venues will have Oktoberfest food specials and beer selections during the period. The efforts are coordinated as a fundraiser for the Onkel Hans Food Drive in support of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.
(Of course, it goes without saying that organizers are strongly encouraging physical distancing, masking and social bubbling.)
Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest 2020 Opening Ceremonies (Facebook)
As one example in Belmont Village, Arabella Park Beer Bar co-owner and general manager Natalie Schnurr is looking forward to a different experience than Arabella, a haven well-known to beer aficionados, has had during previous festivals.
“It’s going to be an interesting for us this year,” says Schnurr. “In the past, we’ve not been too busy during Oktoberfest because people are at the halls, but we will be busy this year.”
K-W Oktoberfest is focusing on the potential of Belmont Village as an open-space festhalle and that will prove a different dynamic for Arabella, which opened for business to immediate success in late-2016, and its eclectic beer selections.
However, with changes being made to the outdoor infrastructure – and with people being required to congregate in smaller groups – Schnurr is preparing to be at the new safe-capacity with a focus on great beer and food. “We will have our usual beers, but we’re also bringing in two new German beers and two special local ones.”
The 4,000 sq.-ft. Arabella patio will include a 20-ft. x 30-ft tent that was erected last week. Replete with heaters and blankets (for a nominal fee), Arabella is designed to weather some cool conditions, she says. “There’s no bad weather. Just bad attire. The experience is going to mean a different kind of Oktoberfest but a fun one.” There’s no admission price, and entry to Arabella is first come, first served.
Arabella’s Oktoberfest tent (Photo: Andrew Coppolino)
The small but inventive kitchen at Arabella will likely be at capacity too – that’s Chad McCord’s territory. Having grown up in Waterloo Region and trained in culinary in the apprenticeship program at Conestoga College, McCord has cooked at the likes of King Street Trio, Wildcraft, Borealis Grille & Bar and Willibald Farm Distillery and Brewery in Ayr.
“When my education plans changed, I discovered that I enjoyed cooking when I started at Cora’s and moved on from there,” he says. “When I saw the head chef job open at Arabella, it was perfect.”
He’s been behind the Arabella stove since June, and this week he’s planning to tweak tradition; more and more, Oktoberfest is destined to re-invent itself in order to appeal to a new demographic. “We’re doing traditional German but with a fun spin,” McCord says, adding that the dish is a retro-play on a quick-service sandwich classic.
“Many people will remember KFC’s ‘Double Down.’ I think schnitzel is a good vehicle for that. It’s a Schnitzel Verdoppeln with smoked purple sauerkraut inside two pieces of local pork schnitzel that I’ve brined along with a Gruyere cheese sauce and a mustard aioli.”
In addition, he’s making an elevated potato salad and some pickles. “The salad is cold but with a mustard vinaigrette, pickled shallots and pickled fennel, along with chiles and some cured egg yolk.” Everything is bigger during Oktoberfest: the retro double-down on the schnitzel is “us having fun with food,” he says. McCord recommends a good “crushable” lager beer to pair with it.
Chef Chad McCourt adds the cabbage to Arabella’s Schnitzel Verdoppeln (Photo: Andrew Coppolino)
Yet, given the times we’re in, there’s more than fun in the subtext to the re-vamped Oktoberfest, according to Schnurr; she says her entrepreneurial wheels have been turning in the face of the pandemic as she looks toward new and different relationships with Canada’s largest Bavarian festival paired with the quaintness and collegiality of Belmont Village.
“Covid-19 has just been awful for people and businesses, but it has revealed ways to adapt,” Schnurr says. “When the dust settles, it will be interesting to see what changes can remain from the pivot.”
Participating Oktoberfest Micro-Festhallen Restaurants with Entertainment
Duke of Wellington
Frannie’s Restaurant and Bakery
Heidelberg Restaurant and Tavern
Janet Lynn’s Bistro
Malt & Barley
The Crazy Canuck (Kitchener and Waterloo/St. Jacobs Market)
Participating Micro-Festhallen Restaurants with Oktoberfest Specials
Beertown Public House (various locations)
Block Three Brewing
Queen of Hearts
Scran & Dram
Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England.
Photo: Andrew Coppolino
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