When Durham’s Guglhupf debuted its new biergarten menu last month, the unexpected hit was a sprouted lentil and quinoa salad with broccoli and smoked carrot puree. Light enough to eat on these humid dog days of late summer and early fall, the körner salat is still satisfying and hearty enough to pair with a draft beer from the newly installed bar. It’s also one of several vegan dishes on the menu, a surprise for diners expecting meat-heavy Bavarian fare.
Guglhupf has challenged our perceptions of German cuisine for twenty years. Claudia Kemmet-Cooper opened it as a bakery and cafe in 1998, featuring many specialties from her home country, such as the eponymous Bundt-shaped guglhupf cake and seeded-rye vollkorn loaves. In 2009, Guglhupf expanded its menu to include dinner service, adding a level of fine dining to the restaurant’s light lunches and popular weekend brunch and helping to define it as more than a bakery.
“Dinner is an identity on a plate,” says Kemmet-Cooper, who grew up cooking for her parents and sisters at a time when it was taken for granted that meals were prepared from scratch with ingredients grown in her grandparents’ garden.
On the heels of Guglhupf’s twentieth anniversary and the launch of its new bar and biergarten menu, Kemmet-Cooper remains committed to her scratch-made philosophy and German roots. But it also means that Guglhupf’s identity is also evolving with the times—now, as always, it continues to challenge diners’ perceptions of what German food is.
Executive chef David Alworth and chef de cuisine Justin Pfau, who were part of the original kitchen team, first worked on honoring and elevating classic German dishes like schnitzel and chicken with potato dumplings. For the biergarten menu, Alworth and Pfau considered diners looking to satisfy increasingly restricted dietary preferences and health concerns without sacrificing taste and innovation, hence the variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
Though Germany has more than two thousand different registered breads, and one could dine happily on bread alone at Guglhupf, a smooth chickpea panisse dotted with wild mushrooms and black garlic puree stands up well without the grain. The maultaschen ravioli, which is traditionally made with meat as Kemmet-Cooper recalls making with her grandmother, is given a lighter update with cheese-wheel pumpkin in a savory-sweet, caramelized onion consommé.
Kemmet-Cooper also wanted her restaurant to have more of an approachable, neighborhood vibe, keeping the fine-dining quality but with more flexibility. The new brotzeit (literally “bread time”) menu is available from mid-afternoon until late, with a variety of meats and cheeses paired with house-made pâtés, spreads, and pickled fish, as well as bratwurst and knackwurst. This approach lends itself to stopping in for a drink at the custom-built, steel-and-wood bar, perhaps pairing something from the brotzeit menu with one of the twelve beers on tap (a mix of German and local suds) or lingering for a casual meal on the patio.
Americans’ stereotypical view of German food is particularly evident around this time of year, when Oktoberfest-themed parties abound, and lederhosen come out. The typical Gothic-font menu likely features pretzels and sausages, washed down with massive steins of beer, heavy and filling enough to make you want to loosen your dirndl. But a softer side of the Teutonic autumnal tradition involves a fluffy onion tart and some fresh, young wine.
Around early fall in Germany, federweisser wine is found at many markets and vineyards; it’s the first wine of the harvest and only around for a short time, like the annual French Beaujolais nouveau. It’s known for its slight sparkling quality and easy drinkability, like a Portuguese vinho verde.
“Federweisser was the first thing I got drunk on as a teenager,” says Kemmet-Cooper, noting that its lower alcohol content makes it a popular “starter” wine.
The usual accompaniment to federweisser is a savory tart similar to quiche called zwiebelkuchen, filled with onions and bacon and served in slices. At Guglhupf, it’s made with sweet onions and speck bacon, though Alworth may also offer a vegetarian version made with seasonal mushrooms.
Though most federweisser doesn’t make it out of Germany (or sometimes even the vineyard), Patrick Hattaway, who manages Guglhupf’s beverage program, has a couple of pairings for the onion tart. One is the crisp and minerally Strub “Im Taubennest” Riesling, the other is the von Winning Sauvignon Blanc, an ideal fall white. Though Sauvignon Blanc is commonly associated with New Zealand and California, this one is produced in Pfalz, Germany’s warmest wine-producing region, and displays a similar character to that of Sancerre. Hattaway describes it as, “oaked, round, and warm like a spiced pear.”
Both recommended wines are from southwestern Germany, not far from where Kemmet-Cooper hails from in Heilbronn in the Swabian region, which also happens to be known for maultaschen and lentils.