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The Carletonian

Good food, better beer at Tanzenwald

<nzenwald Brewery certainly lives up to its name. Translating to “dancing forest,” Tanzenwald harbors fun surprises around every corner.

It is at once a dark, intimate, almost mysterious setting, just as the forest is in German lore. At the same time, however, it is a joyous space filled with laughter, fun conversation, good food and great beer, all combining to create a festive atmosphere in which dancing would not be out of place.

Unlike Imminent Brewing, Northfield’s other microbrewery which models itself on a classic public house, Tanzenwald feels like a private room at your Oma’s house.

This intimacy is reflected in its food, which is inspired by German cuisine, although is not always felicitous to it. The main courses are all sausages of varying provenances, although not all could call themselves “Wursts” in the proper sense.

Nevertheless, any choice suffices to satisfy. The Italian sausage, with a robust red sauce and sweet, caramelized peppers and onions, is a perfect combination, never to be messed with.The Polish kielbasa is a standout, although more for the accoutrements than the sausage itself; the sweet red kraut is a star, worthy of a dish all its own.

Even non-meat eaters can join the Sausage Spectacular–Tanzenwald has recently partnered with the Herbivorous Butcher, a vegan butcher shop in the Twin Cities, to offer both an Italian- and a Bratwurst-style vegan sausage.

No meal at Tanzenwald is complete without an array of appetizers. Rotating somewhat frequently, the appetizers are a playground for the chefs.

Current experiments include totkes, a combination of a tater tot and a latke, and schnitzel puffs, described as “hushpuppies, but with a sausage surprise in the center.” They don’t always work (the totkes were more tater tot than latke and only left me wanting my mother’s homemade latkes), although they are always worth a try.
(An earlier combination, the empamosa, was a major success. Combining the best elements of both an empanada and a samosa, the chefs created a flavor fusion that still haunts my memory to this day.)

Two dishes vie for first place: the spaetzle and the Brussels sprouts. Spaetzle, small dumplings on the verge of being noodles, are smothered in your choice of a gouda sauce or a brown-butter sage glaze.

My advice? Embrace the gouda and never look back–it is the adult mac and cheese I have been searching for ever since it was decided that Kraft was no longer acceptable. (Who made that determination, anyway? If you know, I’d like to have a word with them…)

For a non-guilty-pleasure option, go for the Brussels sprouts. Tossed with bacon and a touch of apple cider vinegar, these crispy sprouts satisfy all five taste notes. They have a rich, earthy savory-ness from the interplay of the sprouts and the smoky bacon. The acidity and sweetness of the vinegar battle themselves valiantly, with each note parrying the other to perfection.

The best bite I’ve had, perhaps in all of Northfield, was when each element came together: a piece of bacon marrying itself with a rich, dense Brussels sprout, which then gave way to a crispy outer leaf before resolving in a ballet of sweet and sour.

I go to Tanzenwald for the food; I stay at Tanzenwald for the beer. In this reviewer’s opinion, Tanzenwald is simply the best beer available south of the Twin Cities.

Only one beer fails to make the cut: De Minimus, a pale ale, truly lives up to its name. (In Latin, de minimis means “about minimal things.” In common usage, it refers to something too minor to merit consideration. At Tanzenwald, it means “skip me.”)

Every other beer, however, tastes like a small gift from heaven. Whether you’re looking for a powerful, citrusy IPA or a dark, almost brooding stout, Tanzenwald has something for you.

While every beer aside from the De Minimus is a surefire crowd pleaser, Tanzenwald excels at Old World-style beers. When I first tasted the Gottlieb Pilsner, I thought for a moment that I was back in Munich on my study-abroad, sitting in a beer hall singing drinking songs with my buddies.

The same was true for the Hitthebrix Belgian Golden Strong, except instead of a Bavarian beer hall I was in an intimate tasting room in Bruges drinking the local abbey’s specialty beer. With a hazy appearance and a wheaty aroma, this Belgian brew is a cut above the rest. Anyone with a taste for imported abbey ales would be more than satisfied with this alternative.

Tanzenwald is not as raucous as other breweries in town, although that does not make it any less of a treat. The space is unassuming, hiding the powerful, eminently tasty beers lurking behind the bar.
The menu seems straightforward, but enough surprises come to make your taste buds jump around with joy. Whether intentional or not, Tanzenwald is indeed the perfect name for Northfield’s best brewery

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