Food & Festivals: Oktoberfest at Reading Liederkranz

Polka-Oktoberfest

Germany is my blood.

Like so many Berks Countians, I can trace my family history back to the Fatherland. Before we were Pennsylvania Germans, we were just Germans.

One night every year, I take the time to celebrate my family heritage with a visit to the Oktoberfest celebration at the Reading Liederkranz.

Though it is a private club, the Liederkranz welcomes the public for special events throughout the year, but none are bigger than Oktoberfest.

And Oktoberfest is a big deal. An article on BusinessInsider.com rates it among the nine best places in the world to celebrate the annual event. So many people attend the event each year that the Liederkranz has to sell reserved parking spaces at their Mt. Penn headquarters.

For the rest of us, that means a 10-minute ride on a school bus from the Antietam Valley Recreation & Community Center. With the twisty turns on the mountainside, the trip feels a lot longer than it actually is (the 1.5-mile trip feels like it takes 10 minutes).

reading-liederkranz-oktoberfest

Stepping off at the top, a large banner hangs above the entrance to the grove and beer garden. Record crowds walked beneath that sign this year, according to the Liederkranz website. Even on our trip Thursday, day two of the five-day festival, the lines for food and beer were lengthy.

When it comes to the food options, there is no wrong choice, but if you are looking for something different, this event is the one place I have found for a delicious bowl of goulash.

reading-liederkranz-goulash

Even in a disposable bowl, it’s easy to see why the goulash is such an appealing dish. The beef cubes are slow cooked in a slightly spicy sauce, served over a bed of egg noodles, which sop up the sauce so well.

With separate lines for each food option, Julie and I had to divide and conquer to get our food. While I was feasting on goulash, she picked up a roast pork meal with German potato salad and sauerkraut.

reading-liederkranz-pork-kraut

The pork was juicy and tender, but for me, the best part are the sides. The potato salad, with large chunks of spuds and plenty of herbs is the best that I have tried. And the sauerkraut is just as good with a sourness that’s noticeable, but not too overpowering.

reading-liederkranz-potato-pancakes

Patrons must buy tickets for all food and drink purchases, and if you do the math wrong (like food bloggers tend to do), you either end up with too few or too many tickets. In this case, we had enough extra tickets for an order of potato pancakes. Three large pancakes are served with cups of applesauce and sour cream for dipping.

reading-leiderkranz-kermit

As we sat and enjoyed our dinner, we were serenaded by the polka sounds of The Continentals, and in between sets, the accordion stylings of Kermit Ohlinger, who wandered through the crowd playing polka versions of “Margaritaville” and “Hot Dog Man.”

After dinner, we took a brief walk through the German market, a collection of vendors selling German-made and -inspired products.

Really, this short walk was just a way to kill time before my favorite part of the evening: dessert.

reading-leiderkranz-chocolate-cake

The Liederkranz offers an assortment of goodies to choose from, including a decadent chocolate cake with rich, creamy chocolate ice cream.

Apple-Struedel-Oktoberfest

But for me, no trip to Oktoberfest is complete without their famous apple strudel.

Served atop a bed of warm custard and (optionally) topped with vanilla ice cream, the strudel is a culinary masterpiece. The ice cream melts quickly, mixing with the custard to create a sweet, soupy pool for the light, flaky pastry. The strudel is so popular that there is often a line waiting for the next batch to emerge from the clubhouse.

Of course, there is also the beer (and wine) and lots of it. It is Oktoberfest, after all.

But for me, Oktoberfest is a celebration of my heritage and a celebration of delicious food.

And it’s why I will continue to return each year.

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