by Lauren McAllister & r & It's October, with foggy mornings giving way to sunshine-sparkly frost and warm afternoons. All that natural beauty. The sentimental relinquishing of summer. The prospect of long cozy evenings with serious literature too intense for frivolous weather. Thoughts naturally turn to beer.
That was our mindset as we set out on a recent cool -- OK, pretty dang cold -- evening. For a little taste of Oktoberfest, Spokane-style, we headed out to Chic A Ria.
Located at the Five Mile Shopping Center, Chic A Ria has a large menu with a bunch of homestyle favorites, but at this time of year, there's a special Oktoberfest selection, although some of the German specialties are also featured year-round.
On the night we visited, every table was full, but our lack of a reservation didn't faze the staff. Soon we had a table from which to observe the waitresses dressed all in black as they whisked around the little dining room. Cardstock cutouts of dirndl and lederhosen -clad celebrants cavorted on the walls amid silk flower wreaths.
We stuck to the Oktoberfest features special menu (available through the end of the month), although the big binder that contains the rest of the menu ran many pages in length.
The Sauerbraten ($14.45), roast beef marinated in red wine and seasoning sounded like a winner, as did the Ziguener schnitzel -- a pork tenderloin topped with onions, green and red peppers in a paprika sauce. We decided on the combination platter ($14) and the Jaeger Schnitzel ($14).
Meals include either a salad or a cup of soup. We tried one of each. My crisp, cold green salad was accompanied by a tasty, homemade blue cheese dressing. The cup of clam chowder my companion tried was a real treat. Lots of clams, potatoes and celery made it clear this chowder was homemade.
The Jaeger schnitzel was a very large slab of moist pork tenderloin topped with an abundance of mushroom and onion gravy. The gravy was loaded with tasty sauteed mushrooms and had just a hint of sherry. The huge serving of spaetzel (German noodles) was also a treat. A side of steamed broccoli was a nice colorful touch, although I could have done without the gooey cheese sauce topping. Jaeger means hunter, and I imagine this would be the ideal meal for a weary hunter who spent the day traipsing about in the cold and damp.
My companion's combination platter offered lots of flavors and textures. The cabbage roll was the ultimate comfort food, with the gentle crunch of the steamed cabbage surrounding a savory meat filling. Zesty marinara sauce added a little kick. Those Germans are big on pork, and here the pork was simply dredged in flour and seasonings and pan-fried to a crisp. It was accompanied, by -- what else? -- spaetzel. The pork was tender and moist on the inside, with a nice golden crisp exterior. But for me, the highlight of the platter was the little bratwurst with sauerkraut. The expertly seasoned bratwurst was moist but not greasy, and the sauerkraut was simply the best I've had, tangy without being bitter or overly salty.
For dessert, we sampled the apple strudel, which is made on the premises, and the White Box coconut cream pie. The strudel was marred by a very chewy dough, although the apples had a nice cinnamony flavor. The creamy coconut pie was cool and rich.
But what is Oktoberfest without the beer? Chic A Ria has four bottled German beers for revelers to enjoy, as well as a Spaten Oktoberfest on tap. I don't know if it's a German tradition or not, but a frosty mug would have been more enticing than the still-warm-from-the-dishwasher glasses that accompanied our bottled brews.
In spite of a few missteps, Chic A Ria has a down-home friendliness that's infectious. From the cheery wait staff, to the somewhat hokey decorations, this is a place where multi-generational dining is possible. From babies and children to older folks looking forward to a good chicken-fried steak, Chic A Ria has something to appeal to every palate.