Eating and Drinking in Alsace, France
Wistub Brenner, Colmar
When winstube go wrong they’re pretentious or indigestibly cute; the Brenner wouldn’t know how to go about aspiring to either. The interior is invested with that sort of non-décor décor that people who began their eating careers in France 50 years ago know can be a good sign. Lunching outside is a dream, though you might be thrown off the trail by the Provençal tablecloths and miss one of the most authentic eating experiences in Alsace. The view takes in the river Lauch and a lovely string of chalky half-timbered houses, their window boxes a convulsion of pink and red geraniums. There’s nothing to undo the magic—unless one of those tragic little tourist “trains” swings by. Courage.
My waitress confirmed that I was the only person in Brenner’s history (it opened in 1994) to order choucroute garnie and tripes au riesling in the same meal. I explained that I only get to Colmar about once every 20 years; that the winstub’s choucroute had the reputation for being le fin du fin de la tradition; and that though I’d read I’d be seeing tripe everywhere, this was the only place I’d found it. I thought it made marginally more sense to start with the choucroute—for some reason it seemed better to put the tripe on top of the sauerkraut rather than the other way around. There are two schools of choucroute. One is the pile-on school. Excess is a virtue. Seven kinds of sausage and as many pork cuts is not unusual. The number can climb even higher if the supplying charcutier is ambitious and has stamina. Obscure Alsatian sausages—varieties made with tongue, beer, ham, or potatoes—could all in principle add their charms to a choucroute. Eric Westermann of the one-star Buerehiesel, in Strasbourg, says his family recipe calls for honey and vinegar to caramelize some of the meats. So you see how baroque the permutations can get.
The second dominant school of choucroute is Brenner’s. This is the V