Wurst’s contemporary German food has become a staple for many Calgarians, for weekend brunch, family friendly hours, European beer selection, and of course, the lively beer hall.
photo by Ingrid Kuenzel
It’s hard to believe that before Spring 2011, Calgary didn’t have any beer halls. Yes, we were but a barren wasteland with tumbleweeds bouncing across avenues and streets, just yearning for a sizeable place to enjoy some good food and interesting beer.
Alright, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but with Calgarians’ seemingly undying love for beer culture, you’re hard-pressed to walk a block downtown and not pass by a beer-focused establishment. One of the things that truly makes Wurst stand out from this city’s beer hall pack, is that it’s one of the only contemporary German beer hall concepts in the country.
Sure, you can sit round a long plank table at most craft beer-focused establishments these days, but finding a thick stein, hearty enough to withstand a solid cheers, and some schnitzel with a little finesse? Now that’s a little tougher.
A well-oiled machine these days, serving up contemporary German food in a fun and lively atmosphere, Wurst has become a staple for many Calgarians, for weekend brunch, family friendly hours, European beer selection, and of course, the lively beer hall on their lower level.
Like any restaurant, there’s bound to be a few hiccups when they open, and Wurst was no exception. Originally, they aimed to split concepts in the space, offering a more upscale German dinner experience upstairs, with the classic beer hall atmosphere downstairs. The split concept didn’t work out as well as everyone had hoped.
“It was just such a huge contrast to each other. In the dining room everything was different… the music, the wine list, the menu… they were both great [separately], but it just didn’t work.” says general manager, Andrea Wales.
Wales continues, “We’ve since melded them together and it works really well. We have one menu all day; the same type of drinks available on both floors, and it’s nice. It’s a one-stop German beer hall shop. The upstairs still has that nice restaurant setting, but you can walk downstairs, head into this big beer hall and let loose a little if you want.”
The space is still as striking as it was the day it opened. Walking in, you’ll see large trees with hanging lights in the middle of the dining room, and the 20 foot ceilings, giving the space an airy, outdoor sort of feel.
“Sometimes people will say, ‘You have trees!’ when they walk in, and we reply, ‘Yes! We have trees!’” says Wales laughing. “I saw it recently where a couple of girls walked in and just looked up at the big indoor trees and started taking pictures. I hadn’t seen that in a while, but it gets me every time.”
In the warmer months, getting a seat on Wurst’s south-facing patio is highly sought after, even once the sun has set, because of the big banquet seating in the back that wraps around a firepit. Just a little something to look forward to next spring.
If you’re coming for the full beer hall meal deal in the lower level, you’ll find a huge room with mostly solid wood plank tables and an accent wall dedicated to people’s personal stein collections. Whether you’ve got your own stein or not, anyone is welcome to stand up with beer and yell, “Prost!” (cheers!) whenever they please, and even more so this month since it’s Oktoberfest, of course! Come on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday during the festivities to be serenaded by the restaurant’s house oompah band too. It’s a whole lot of brass and whole lot of fun.
As the hall gets busier with each passing hour in the evening, you’ll find tabletops full of chef Rudy’s creations, like giant bacon fat-brushed pretzels, pancake-battered calamari, or the signature Bavarian chicken wing. The latter is a sausage-stuffed, pretzel-breaded and hot sauce coated chicken wing that needs to be tackled with a fork and a knife, or the hands of a giant. It’s big, it’s messy and it’s one of those dishes that’s begging to be accompanied by a stein of cold beer.
“We have traditional German menu items, but all of them with a little twist,” says chef Rudy on creating his menus at Wurst. “I don’t love using the word ‘twist’, but you know… our calamari for instance is breaded on the outside with a little pancake batter and topped with a radler syrup. It’s just different to the regular ones you’d find in town.”
With chef Rudy’s experience in German cuisine, his menu offers both a contemporary take as well as an emphasis on comfort food. His maultaschen dumplings are a common dish in the Southwestern region of Germany (where the chef hails from) and are the perfect little bundles of ground beef, spinach and onion joy to warm you up when it’s cold outside.
Yes, from the German classics like wiener schnitzel and platters of big, juicy house-made bratwurst, to spätzle with Gouda and ham, or a pear and apple streusel, there’s no denying that Wurst’s food is best appreciated in the fall and winter.
With Oktoberfest in full swing, something both Wales and Rudy dub as “Wurst’s Stampede”, the restaurant is busy all day and night. “You know, a lot of restaurants celebrate Oktoberfest now, but what’s more authentic than this right here? We are German! Ha, ha, ha. Well, I’m German and my sous chef is from Switzerland, so we have our hands [rooted in that type of culture],” says chef Rudy.
When asked about the evolving Calgary food scene, and how Wurst will continue to capture the attention and appetites of Calgarians, Wales knows just to what to do.
“We can all get so caught up in the next big thing and what not, so now four and a half years later, the longevity of this concept is up to us. We need to make sure our service always stays great, we keep things interesting with our food, andthat we throw fun parties! Think about Oktoberfest and what else do you think about than a great time, enjoying beer and good food? We want people to feel that right when they walk in here.”