OTTO’S FREDERICKSBURG: GERMAN FOOD WITH A TEXAS TWIST
by Andrew Chalk
The bratwurst and weisswurst are made in-house, they even grew their own potatoes for a time, Otto’s in downtown Fredericksburg, near the Museum of the Pacific War, is a 7-year favorite restaurant with locals and visitors alike. Reserve well in advance on weekends. On the Monday evening, just post lockdown and under social distancing rules, when I attended a media event virtually all the tables were taken for early seatings.
The twist on hard core German food in this charming, still Germanic, town is illustrated by crowd pleasers like Tuna Teriyaki ($14), or Foie Gras ($19). The former is served as an appetizer with a teutonic touch of braised green asparagus and accented with a lemon cream (like a light crème fraîche). The foie gras is from Hudson valley and is served with a traditional sweet accompaniment. Peach marmalade, as befits the season here, and an addictive hunk of sweet, crumbly homemade brioche.
For tradition go with German Roast Beef ($10) which is served cold as broad slices with a spicy crust and homemade tartar sauce. Alternatively, Flammkuchen ($16) is German pizza, but the name conceals rather than reveals what a wonderful dish this treasure is. The crust, made from pastry, is earthy and without a hint of the sweetness that seems to bedevil much pizza crust these days. Is rolled so flat it is as though a steamroller had driven over it, then topped with prosciutto, apple, Texas goat cheese, créme fraîche and a balsamic vinegar reduction.Hopefully, recently installed Düsseldorf-born chef Henry Gutkin can swap out the prosciutto for speck. A new addition is sautéed mushrooms ($10) where the modest name undersells the variety in the dish as the garlic, shallots and fresh herbs accent lion’s mane, hen of the woods, and other types of mushrooms. It is memorable how Otto’s came across these mushrooms: a customer thanked the management after a visit and said “Oh, by the way, my husband and I have started a mushroom farm”. Thus was born an ongoing supply relationship.
Don’t be surprised that the Rye Porter bread is sold à la carte ($2) rather than bundled in. It is unique among restaurant breads that I have encountered domestically, even in Fredericksburg. The dense texture contributes to a weighty slice loaded with earthy flavors that leave it sitting, brooding with its dark brown color on the plate. Bread lovers in search of the avant-garde will love it.
For my entrée I was torn between two recommendations from local winemakers. Winemakers deal in scents, textures, and flavors all day, so their training lends an air of gravitas to their opinions. The choices were the Halibut ($38) served with lemon pepper, pickled fennel, and rice and ‘veggie mélange’ (I have had a vegetable medley, would risk trying a maelstrom - on my birthday, but have never had a mélange). Consider it a medley as described by a menu writer with artistic flair. A colleague who did choose the halibut loved it.
Instead, I went with Duck Schnitzel ($29) with käsespätzle (egg noodles with melted cheese), rotkohl (red cabbage braised with onions, apple, vegetable broth, and a witches brew of herbs and spices), delectably tart cranberry marmalade, and pickled peppers. Rotkohl takes ten times as long to cook as it does to prep. so you can imagine how homely it tastes, and how yielding its textures. It formed a bed for the crusty schnitzel with the pasta and marmalade on the side. It was a triumphant mélange (there’s that word again) of flavors and textures in a helping that would comfortably feed two. Certainly, a choice to be repeated.
Of the two desserts on the menu, the Cambozola Cheesecake ($10) is worth a detour, as the choice of cheese gives it a dairy richness not accorded to the conventional cream cheese variant. Cambozola, of course, is a mélange (that’s the third time) of the double cream French camembert and the tart Italian blue cheese gorgonzola. Given its diverse sources of cheese, it is fitting that it originated in Germany.
The interesting wine list is split into two parts. The base list is on the back of the menu and the reserve list is a separate well dog-eared manuscript that warrants careful perusal. The latter has only bottles, so by-the-glass selections are rather limited. Oddly, for a restaurant in the wine capital of Texas, there are only two Texas wines by-the-glass. In Oregon or California that would be half a page. It emphasizes that Texas wine lovers have to impress Texas wines more indelibly on the minds of Texans (83% of Fredericksburg visitors) now that the quality is good enough to win gold medals at the nation’s top wine competitions.
There are several German and domestic beers, and neighbors Hye Cider Company gets a shout out too. Cocktails are on a separate sheet for those who like their drinks a little stronger.
Otto’s, whether inside or on the patio, is a fun and non pretentious night out. The welcoming staff mean that this is one of my favorite restaurants in town right now.