Crane Alley in Urbana has hosted its own Oktoberfest event for some years now and 2019’s was held last Saturday, September 21st.
If you’re new to Oktoberfesting, it involves good beer — lots of it — and usually some type of food that nods towards Germany. Crane Alley pulls out all the stops. The servers dress in lederhosen and there are specific Oktoberfest specials offered throughout the day, including food and lager. With every stein of beer purchased, attendees garnered one raffle ticket for three different gift baskets of assorted goodies. Glass steins of beer were also available for purchase at $8.
My little group arrived just after Oktoberfest began; essentially we went for Oktoberfest brunch. The beer truck was out back at the end of the alley, which has plenty of outdoor seating. (We ate inside, thinking it might rain.) We started with some steins of beer ($10 each; Paulaner Festbier and Sam Adams Octoberfest) and an order of the pretzel bites ($8).
The Paulaner was nicely malty with some richer toffee notes and a light finish. The Sam Adams was a bit more bitter but another excellent choice. The pretzel bites came out quickly and they were piping hot and freshly salted. They were served with a warm cheese dip made with beer. The beer gave the dip a richer flavor and went perfectly with the pretzel bites. These disappeared quickly.
For our entrees, I ordered the schnitzel ($6; for only two dollars more, it could be made into a sandwich) two others ordered the brat ($5), and one tacked on the German potato salad ($4) as a side. Everything was à la carte so sides were not automatically included.
We whetted our appetites with beer and pretzels, and fortunately didn’t have to wait too long for our main dishes to arrive. Everything was fresh and hot and no one left anything on their plates. I’m told the sauerkraut wasn’t overly pickled — a plus — and the mustard complemented the appley, oniony bratwurst. My two friends who ate the brats thought the hoagie buns held up well under the weight of the meat and toppings. I think our table could have eaten a few more servings of the German potato salad: red potatoes served warm with lots of mustard dressing, green onion, and bacon bits. It was pure comfort food and went hand in hand with all the beer we were consuming. If Crane Alley is looking for a special side to offer more than just once a year, this is it.
The schnitzel was hot with just the right amount of brown gravy served on top. The breading was crispy and the pork juicy. For my own taste, I would have liked to drizzle some fresh lemon juice on top of the schnitzel, but it was delicious as prepared. I should have just ordered the German potato salad so I could put it right on top of the schnitzel. Lesson learned for next time.
We couldn’t leave without trying the linzer torte ($5). It was raspberry coulis spread on top of a bar of shortbread. Out of all of the items we ordered, our table agreed this was the weakest dish. It was almost devoid of sweetness, being very tart from the raspberry (lemon was also noted). The shortbread was chewy but not overly crumbly and also very light on sweet. This may be extremely traditional as far as this dish is concerned, but it was just middle-of-the-road for our group. All things considered, this didn’t detract from our time there.
Don’t miss Crane Alley’s annual event next year.
115 W Main Street
11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Photos by Zoe Valentine