Oktoberfest in the Valley

October brings one thing to local restaurants: reason to don your best lederhosen, get your polka on and celebrate, German-style.
A table fit for Germany: Braised short ribs, sausage platter, giant pretzel, potato dumplings and Hof Brau original beer.

Gemütlichkeit. That’s the German word that, roughly translated, means “a good feeling, a good time, a feeling of welcome and comfort,” says Kim Quade, owner-operator of Stillwater’s Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter. It’s exactly the feeling that she and her team try to create for guests every day, just as they’ve done for more than half a century.

In 1966, when the Gasthaus opened, it was in the middle of nowhere on Lofton Avenue, just west of Manning up the hill from downtown Stillwater. The Schoene family had emigrated from Germany in 1957 and eventually took up residence in the same building as their restaurant that would, as they envisioned, share traditional German cuisine with their new Minnesota neighbors. Karl and Elizabeth cooked and hosted, and daughter Irmgaard and son Carl Jr. helped out wherever they could (their former quarters are still there today, dubbed the Green Room). Patrons could enjoy a traditional meal indoors or out, spilling onto the lawn among mature trees reminiscent, to them, of the Black Forest in their homeland.

“They created this destination place—a special place where people could hang out, enjoy their surroundings and relax,” Quade says. “They could walk the grounds, get outside, and have a good, fun, healthy time.”

There were some tough times for the restaurant and the Schoene family, with a devastating fire destroying the building in 1987 and the loss of both Karl and Carl Jr. Today Quade—Carl’s widow, who took over after his death—sticks to tradition and honors the Schoenes’ memory by using Elizabeth’s original recipes, keeping the décor and music as consistent as possible, and treating staff and customers like family.

“We have tons of regulars—lots of German-speaking immigrants and families,” Quade says. “We want to bring back the sights and smells and sounds to make them feel like they’re at home.”

With that in mind, the menu is made up almost entirely of authentic German entrées. Schweinshaxe are traditional pork hocks served up with mashed potatoes and kraut. The crowd favorite sauerbraten uses the original family recipe for marinated roast beef, paired with potato dumplings and red cabbage. Jägerschnitzel—no, it’s not boozy—is actually wienerschnitzel with mushroom sauce on those same dumplings and cabbage sides. There’s goulash and herring, pot roast, schnitzels and spaetzels and wursts—all the favorites from the Motherland.

Quade and the cooking staff have added a handful of lighter options in recent years, but haven’t deviated much from the tried-and-true home-cooking that has brought people in for decades. On the thirst-quenching side, there’s a full bar, but the Gasthaus team follows a strict tradition of serving only imported German beer, so that means you won’t find any hipster-y brews on tap. “People ask a lot, but we have no intention of changing that,” Quade says. A dozen German names take up permanent residence on the draft list.

During happy hour, get $2 off your German beer and pair it with a $5 appetizer (the giant pretzel is fair game). And come mid- to late-September, the Gasthaus is the place to be, as Oktoberfest festivities ramp up, drawing 5,000 people per weekend. (In case you’re confused about the timing, September is when Munich throws its Oktoberfest celebrations—plus it makes for better weather in the Midwest.)

“It has an old-country, old-world kind of atmosphere,” Quade says. “There’s this feeling like you’ve been transported back
in time.”

It’s October, try the Burgermeister.

Want the German feel any month of the year? Meister’s in Stillwater—whose owners’ family once owned the Scandia Meister’s, too—doesn’t really do anything special for Oktoberfest. But then again, with German dishes and beers to round out the menu year-round, it doesn’t really need to.

The building has a decidedly German flair, with timbers on the outside, kitty-corner from Chilkoot Café on Fourth. Walk in and you’ll feel like you’re going back in time to a corner bar straight out of the 1960s. It seems everyone knows everyone, and regulars abound. The signature Meisterburger has bacon piled high, and there’s the traditional brat or Reuben.

To drink? Most choose a beer, of course; Paulaner Oktoberfest and Hefeweizen, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, and Stella Artois are evergreens on tap.

“We’re just a hometown, corner bar,” says owner Steve Meister. “Been here 69 years straight!”