The third annual C-U Oktoberfest, benefitting Developmental Services Center, was last Saturday. The perfect fall weather put the Oktober in the Oktoberfest: it was sunny, but a little brisk. The event has grown in the last three years, and this year there were more things for the kids, including a bouncy house and some soccer stuff, as well as cookie decorating and face painting. For the adults, Triptych, The Blind Pig, JT Walker’s, and Destihl were on hand doling out some beer. Destihl was also on hand with pretzels, and more substantial eats were provided by Chester’s BBQ and White Horse Inn.
As in the past two years, entry was $5, and tickets ($1 per ticket) were required for everything, including the activities for the kiddos. This year there seemed to be a few more standing table scattered around and under the tents. Picnic tables were in the tent with the stage, but most tables were reserved for sponsors.
I arrived just in time to witness Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen tap the keg to kick off the evening’s festivities.
White Horse Inn and Chester’s BBQ were the only two vendors selling meals. Chester’s BBQ seemed like an odd addition — I don’t exactly think of barbeque nachos when I think of German food — but the menu was adjusted to reflect mainstream ideas of German cuisine. Schnitzel on a stick ($7/tickets) and half chickens ($8/tickets) kept things “authentic.”
For the third year in a row, White Horse Inn served up some tasty sausage platters ($8/tickets). This year I tried the knackwurst, which was served with kraut, German potato salad, mustard, and a pickle. The meat was delicious. The kraut was great, too. The potato salad was good, but I feel like maybe it was better last year, although I can’t really justify that beyond unreliable memories.
An addition to this year’s food options was rote grutze ($3/tickets) a “pudding-like German dessert made with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cherries, topped with vanilla sauce,” according to the White Horse’s menu description, at least. As a whole, it was a nice enough sweet treat at the end of a meal. The fruits were tasty, but not overly sweetened. There were whole piece of fruit, but for the most part, it was a jam/compote consistency. From what I understand about rote gruze, the pudding is actually made of the fruit, and not what Americans might think of a milky pudding. But there was a (vanilla?) creamy pudding on top (thicker than sauce, and crème anglaise, but not as thick as a custard), which was just OK — it wasn’t too sweet, and the texture was pretty smooth. I didn’t get much in the way of any vanilla sauce, unless that referred to the pudding on top, which I would not call a sauce. Regardless of semantics, it was a good size for the price, but not particularly mind-blowing.
I also had White Horse’s sausage on a bun ($6/tickets) — bratwurst this time — and that bun was massive. The brat was delicious, and the addition of the pretzel bun was much appreciated. For $6/tickets it felt like a lot of food.
Despite this, I also tried one of Destihl’s pretzels ($3/tickets). Last year’s were pretty much a bust, so I was excited when I took a bite into a soft, buttery, salty, bready pretzel. It was much better, but I still believe that it would have been excellent with some dipping sauce. Part of the reason the pretzels were so delicious this year was because the pretzel swords were merely decorative, and no one was waving pretzel swords around (rendering the pretzels cold and hard).
No Oktoberfest is complete without beer, obviously. Area locals were there: The Bling Pig, Triptych, JT Walker’s, Destihl. Beer for regular people ranged in price from $5/tickets to $6 or $7/tickets. Event sponsors received these large boot-shaped glasses, and to fill one up was about $12 to $14.
Triptych’s Oktoberfest ($5/tickets) was deliciously malty. It was a hearty beer, with plenty of flavor and deliciousness that paired well with the heavy meats and briny vinegar of the kraut and potato salad.
The Blind Pig’s special Oktoberfest brew ($5/tickets) was much lighter than the Triptych, but still pretty flavorful. It also paired well with the food, but because it was less malty and a little lighter in body than the Triptych, it seemed more easily adapted to drinking multiples.
For the kids (and adults with a sweet tooth), root beer floats were available for $5/tickets. Made with Mug Root Beer and Cream & Flutter ice cream, these treats would have made any child bounce off the walls of the bouncy house.
The number of folks dressed in lederhosen and dirndl seemed higher than in the past two years, and this certainly contributed to the festive atmosphere. When Der Musikmeisters played The Chicken Dance, the dance floor was packed. Even though I was there in the earlier part of the night, the event was fairly crowded. People seem to be slowly discovering the festival, and each year attendance appears to rise. I do think that it would be worth looking into expanding a few of the food options; it’d be great to have a few more German specialties available. It might also be worth expanding the seating and maybe even adding a few other activities for all ages. Oktoberfest is a welcome addition to C-U festivals, and I look forward to seeing how organizers adapt and adjust for next year.
All photos by Jessica Hammie.