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October 21, 2015

Any guesses about the largest ethnic group in the United States? If you were using restaurants to guide your wager, you might pick Mexican, Chinese, or Italian. But nope, the German-American population stateside is the biggest of all.

So why aren't sausages-and-schnitzel spots dotting the street corners as burrito and slices shops do? That day may not be far off, since the German and Austrian cuisine revival stateside is real.

And better yet, Germanic cuisine has finally begun to shed its outdated reputation for strictly potatoes, meats, and steins. The last few years have seen Eastern European ingredients and dishes making cameos on menus from coast to coast, from the delicious schnitzel at Faust in Providence to Los Angeles’s Bar Beisl, a James Beard Award semi-finalist with a huge selection of schnapps.

Why are restaurateurs at last tackling Germanic food? There is the obvious reason—the relative distance of 2015 from the middle of the 20th century, when German-Americans were changing their names in the wake of World War II—but there are others, too. We reached out to Bill Addison, national restaurant critic for Eater.com, to get his thoughts.

The boom is “definitely something I’ve noticed,” he told us via email, and one he appreciates: Along with Bar Beisl, Addison is a fan of Brasserie Zentral in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the menu brims with spaetzle, schnitzel, and sausages, but also “brilliant” locally raised foie gras.

“The main reason for the appearance of ambitious German and Austrian restaurants in the U.S. is, I think, a reflection of individual elements of the cuisines becoming more familiar on restaurant menus in general,” Addison writes. We have become “obsessed with sausages and charcuterie; we've grown to love pickled and gently sour flavors; we crave the comfort of dumplings.” It seems natural, he thinks, that chefs and restaurateurs observe our dining trends and see the obvious connections to Germanic dishes.

As for the future? “I still think reputations for the cuisines as ‘heavy’ and ‘rich’ persist, but the more restaurants we have expressing these cuisines in elegant, modern ways, the more the eating public will embrace them.”

There’s nothing wrong, certainly, with a good, stein-clinking Oktoberfest celebration, or the old-school German or Austrian restaurant, with a bevy of sausages on the menu and potatoes aplenty. But if you’re lucky, soon you’ll also be able to sample Austria’s delicate white asparagus or its glorious cheese dip, liptauer, or experience Germany’s currywurst, which has been described as a “traditional proletarian snack of sliced pork sausage swimming in a curry-tomato sauce” so beloved in its homeland that it actually has its own museum in Berlin.

So even with Oktoberfest in the rear-view mirror, maybe it’s time to consider German dining beyond the steins and sausages.

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