The Blue Belle Inn and Bavaria have more in common than the beautiful blue color that graces the Bavarian flag and Iowa’s premier bed and breakfast and tea house. One of the specialties of the house at the Blue Belle Inn for over 23 years has been their delicious German Oktoberfest Cuisine.
While you won’t see any half-timbered houses, alpine chalets, or glockenspiels in the town of St. Ansgar, the village was founded by a Danish minister, and settled by Norwegian and German immigrants, and has plenty of European influences. Saint Ansgar isn’t a German community in the sense that the Amana Colonies in Iowa, Frankenmuth in Michigan, or New Ulm in southern Minnesota are. Yet, the Blue Belle serves some of the most authentic homemade German food found in the United States.
The connection? Owner Sherrie Hansen lived in Augsburg, Germany for three years in the late 1970’s. In addition to eating at dozens of gasthofs and tasting countless German meals while she was there, Sherrie took a cooking class from a wonderful German woman. “The recipes she taught me – Jaeger (Hunter, with mushrooms), Rahm (Cream), and Weiner Schnitzels, Beef Rouladen, Spatzle Noodles, Blaukraut (Red Cabbage), Kartofel (Potato) Salat, and a traditional Gemuse Salat (pickled beets, cucumbers, and green beans) – have become staples at the Blue Belle Inn."
“I find that I’m often disappointed when I order German food at other restaurants because it just doesn’t taste like the food I remember eating in Germany.” Part of that is due to the fact that different regions and cities have their own traditional way of cooking things. “I lived in Augsburg, in southern Germany, about an hour from Oberammergau and Garmish Partenkirchen. In Bavaria, spaetzle noodles are small, plump, irregularly shaped little noodles. On a recent trip to Stuttgart, I discovered that what they call spaetzle is a 2 or 3 inch long, perfectly round, tube-shaped noodle.” Some spaetzle are boiled in water, then heated in a saute pan in butter. The Blue Belle dots their spaetzle with butter, then heats the noodles in the oven, but Sherrie’s secret of boiling the noodles in beef broth instead of plain water is the thing that gives the noodles their delicious flavor. The hands down favorite German dish of staff and customers at the Blue Belle Inn is made with tender pork medallions simmered in a cream gravy with mushrooms. In many regions of Germany, Jaegerschnitzel is made with a brown gravy (Jaeger means hunter in German, and is used as the name for this dish because the Germans hunt for mushrooms in the woods.) At the Blue Belle, the recipe that is used calls for a Rahm Schnitzel gravy, which has cream in it and may be the most delicious gravy ever.
The Blue Belle also serves Beef Rouladen, which is thinly sliced steak spread with ground bacon, pork and onions, rolled up, browned, and simmered in beef broth until it’s very tender. (No pickles inside at the Blue Belle, although they are found ground up in the filling in some parts of Germany.) The rouladen are also served on a bed of homemade spaetzle noodles and smothered in a brown gravy made from the pan juices.
The Blue Belle’s Blaukraut is a Bavarian version of Rotkol, or red cabbage, made with sugar browned in butter, apples and a dash of cloves. Sherrie’s opinion is that it’s infinitely better than sauerkraut!
The Blue Belle’s German potato salad is another Bavarian specialty. While it is served at room temperature and has bacon in it, it is very different than the Hot German Potato salad more commonly served in the U.S. “Because the Blue Belle is a small, boutique restaurant, our recipes are very authentic, and have not been Americanized. Our food is made in small batches, the old-fashioned way, and has a great, homemade flavor. I’ve said for 23 years that eating at the Blue Belle Inn is more like company dinner at Grandma’s house than dining at a restaurant,” Sherrie says.
The Blue Belle also serves a glazed fruit kuchen or cake, and several versions of Black Forest desserts and cheesecakes, all with plenty of chocolate, cherries and whipped cream. Sherrie freely admits, “Some of the things I learned how to make involve so much prep time that I rarely make them – apfel strudel, for example, which requires layer after layer of buttery, paper-thin pastry to be rolled out, folded over, and rolled out, again and again. I haven’t made lebkucken for years, but hope to try it one day soon.”
This fall, Sherrie has also added a German special to the Blue Belle’s lunch menu – a green onion bratwurst served on a bed of homemade spaetzle noodles topped with a browned onion gravy. Guests have been raving!
The Blue Belle will be serving their German cuisine at various occasions throughout the fall and winter including a murder mystery on October 24 and 25th. “This mystery is a spoof of The Sound of Music and Sister Act, set in the Alps, so our Bavarian dishes seemed like a good match.”
The Blue Belle is open for lunch on Wed – Sat, 11:30 – 2:30 and dinner by reservation only. If you’re going to be in the area, or staying in one of the Blue Belle’s guest rooms and would like to try their German cuisine, Sherrie asks that you please mention it when you make your reservation so she can do her best to accommodate your wishes. Please call 641-713-3113 to make reservations or visit the Blue Belle Inn’s website at www.bluebelleinn.com to check their upcoming event schedule.
While your budget may not include a trip to Bavaria to celebrate Oktoberfest each fall, you can easily indulge your cravings by calling the Blue Belle Inn, which comparatively speaking, is practically in your own backyard. You can bring your own wine, beer or champagne (no Jaegermeister, schnapps or other hard liquors) to enjoy with your meal at the Blue Belle (stems and uncorking are provided for $1.00 per person), so remember to tuck in some German spirits to complement your meal. Come soon to enjoy a bit of Bavaria right here in northern Iowa. St. Ansgar’s colorful maple trees and the Blue Belle’s Oktoberfest menu are the perfect excuse to head north!