My great-grandparents, Elizabeth Heagel Arndt and Johann Arndt, immigrated to Portland from the Norka colony near Saratov, Russia in 1910.
So, I think I've mentioned once or twice that I'm a (fucking) German girl, and while I generally use that as an excuse for my penchant for dairy products and cured meats, thick beer and boorish behavior, I've never really told you my family's story. Here it is in a nutshell.
In the late 18oos, many Germans immigrated to the Americas not from Germany, but from near the city of Saratov, Russia, where they had followed their beloved Catherine II (the Great) in the 1760s. She implored Germans to come to Russia in her Manifesto, which promised resource-rich land, political freedom and religious autonomy to anyone who would come to settle the rugged landscape of Russia. This was opened to all Europeans, but it was primarily Germans who took her up on it. Within a few years, there were 101 German-speaking colonies settled along the Volga River.
These so-called Volga Germans lived happily near the city of Saratov until the 1870s, when the Russian government instituted a series of reforms that were intended to unify the Russian republic. Unfortunately, this came with forced military service, the requirement of Russian-only spoken language and crippling taxes (sound familiar?), which spurred another mass migration, this time mostly to Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and the United States. Many of the Volga Germans that came to the US went to the Mid West, but a large number of families eventually settled in Portland, Oregon. Mine was one of them. If you'd like to read more about the Volga Germans in Portland and elsewhere, the Center for Volga German Studies has a very informative website.
Even though I'm a third-generation American and speak more Russian than German (to the chagrin of my father), I swell with a strange nationalistic pride when I talk about German specialties. When I step into a place like Edelweiss, I feel like I'm among my People.
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Edelweiss is one of those locals-only gems that I'm frankly loathe to even tell you about, let alone glowingly review. I mean, next time you're in Portland you'll be all, "What the fuck, Heather. I want a Reuben with pastrami so tender and moist that it disintegrates the moment it touches my lips. I want brats that snap between my teeth, sending meaty juices and spicy mustard dripping down my chin. I want to wash these down with fragrant German beers that I've never even heard of. Hook a nigga up."
And I'll sigh a weighty sigh and begrudgingly, I will be obliged to take you there, because I couldn't keep my damn mouth shut and now you know about it.
In the back corner of an unassuming little deli located on a residential street behind an AM/PM, there's a treasure. A little lunch counter that serves up bratwurst and sammiches for a few bucks, with your choice of sides. You always order the German potato salad, because you just do. A beer? Why not, how about just a mug (it's a little early for a whole pint, wouldn't want to raise any eyebrows). Then take your ticket and grab a seat.
I'm a complete xenophile, so of course I get a major hard-on for shit like foreign beers. I like how the one on the far left looks like it says "Burnonator". Like what Trogdor is to the countryside, the peasants and all the peoples in the thatched-roof cottages.
Paulaner Salvator Doppelbock? In the daytime? Don't mind if I do!
While you wait for a stout, smiling woman in an apron to bring your plate, why not do a little shopping? This is my secret source for European cultured butter (they were out of French this time, so I picked some Dutch butter). I will admit, I totally buy packaged spaetzle. If you could get real German spaetzle, wouldn't you consider it too? The Eurobake breads (best rye ever!) are also available at the Russian market up the street on Foster Rd.
The dairy products and chocolates all feature toe-headed Aryan youths smiling fiendishly toward the Vaterland. I'm a blue-eyed devil and it makes me nervous.
Ohthankgod! She brought the food, just when I was certain I would chew my arm off.
Everyone always orders the brats, but my money's on the Reuben. It's the best I've ever had in this town - house-cured pastrami, tangy thousand island and sauerkraut, and creamy melted Swiss cheese all nestled lovingly on toasted rye. This is the goods, right here. I couldn't finish my sammich, or my German potato salad (served warm, with a creamy bacon vinaigrette and minced chives), but I made a heroic effort. The beer alone was like eating a slice of bread, so who can blame me?
You know what, I've changed my mind. Next time you're in Portland, don't email me or call. And certainly don't expect me to take you to Edelweiss. This secret is staying safe with me.