Friday, June 27, 2008

Edelweiss Sausage & Delicatessen

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.

* * *

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.

You can just fetch yourself a beer from the fridge, or have a mug from the tap.

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.

Edelweiss Sausage Co. & Delicatessen on Urbanspoon


Peter M said...

A most cool family story and do preserve that photo...a gem.

From looking at the deli, we have a couple of those here (sans booze) but yours IS superior.

I'll order the "hearty lunch" with some sausage with caraway in it, a sweet Bavarian-stylz mustard, rye bread and a lagert to wash it all down.

Ben said...

That's a great story, Heather. I wish I knew exactly where my family comes from. I just know part of them come from the Basque country and the other part from other parts of Spain and the Mixteca sierra in Mexico. Someday I will try to find out.

Syd said...

I love history, particularly when food is involved. Great story.

And you fucking WILL direct me to that place, if I ever make it out there. I may never leave.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

What a great story! It's kind of hard to bitch about mundane things when we realize what hard lives our ancestors had.

That deli looks like a real gem! I will definitely make you take me there if I am lucky enough to be in your neck of the woods!

Heather said...

Peter the Greek - It's only a color copy, but I still love trying to find the family resemblance. :)

Ben - Ooh, the Basque country! How exotique! And at least you fluently speak your mother tongue, I only know a few words of mine. :\

Syd - If you never leave, it won't be cuzza the food (Portland sees a lot of girl on girl action).

Heather said...

D'oh! Sorry I skipped you, Susan. Yes, we have it pretty effing easy, comparatively speaking, but politically it sounds a lot like the same.

cookiecrumb said...

I totally GET this kind of deli/shop. Lucky you.
How cool that you're such an ancient Portlander.
(I know. How American of me to think 1910 is ancient.)

Nikki Miller-Ka said...

That's right! Hookaniggaup! I'm just sayin'! I'm really not into German food (went to Germany in the 90s, had a miserable time) but occasionally I'll come across a brat or a mustard that I like. But the beer--that's where it's at. I luh da drank.

Emiline said...

That's really interesting about your family. And it's cool that your family has been in the area for a long time. My dad's side of the family is German too, but I don't know much about them. My mom's trying to track down information.

The reuben looks incredible, I must say! And the beer.

I find the chocolate and other grocery items disturbing. That little blond haired-blue eyed boy. I think they could come up with a better logo or whatever you call it.

Foodycat said...

Oh yeah baby! For a Swiss girl like me that looks like coming home. I'd buy packaged spaetzle too, because I just can't do it like grossmami used to.

Lore said...

That was a great read about your family.
And the food, OMG the food, is that deli ever closed? It hard for me not to imagine lots of people waiting in line day or night to get those Delicatessen.

Judy @ No Fear Entertaining said...

Great history lesson!!! We used to have a place like that in our Mall here but they have gone out of business. They sold all of the German specialties, beer, food etc.

Bellini Valli said...

One of the many deli's here in K-town sells everything but the kitchen sink. Love their hams...but sadly no beer:)

Heather said...

Cookie - I am so very ancient! It justifies my fist-shaking at all the people who keep moving here. :P

Nikki - You lee yo drank around me, yo drank gun git drunk up. (I love typing like a deep-south rapper too much.) German food isn't one of my favorites, but I get an occasional hankerin'.

Emmy - Yeah, the creepy, grinning Aryans is how you know you're not in Kansas any more. And they put those kids on everything!

Foodycat - Since my dad's mom was Welsh, I never had a gramma to make German food for me. My mother-in-law, though, she knows what time it is. :)

Lore - The deli is closed at only 6:00, and it's closed Sundays! The reason I can get a table is that it's still relatively unknown. When we were there a line formed behind us (just in the nick of time!).

Judy - That's the problem with a lot of the little places - they're either a town institution or they're completely unknown and go out of business. :(

Valli - Yeah, Peter was saying there's no beer at his either. Is that just a sad Canadian thing?

Kevin said...

Look at all of that tasty food. It would be nice if there were a deli like that nearby.

glamah16 said...

Ah the food of the Vaterland. When its good its very good. Today we went to a lackluster so called Swedish deli. This is the real deal.Great story about your family. I never knew the part about the Germans in Russia.Og course CS did.And we will email you when arrive in Portland one day. "Take me to your Deli! Schnell. Bitte."

Anonymous said...

Great story about your family. It's great you were able to look back that far at your ancestors. My family tree is all screwed-up, my dad's family goes back to sailors in northern France and my mom's family is from Morocco/South of Spain. Does that make me a mutt?

That deli looks awesome. It's pork heaven! Now I'm craving a Reuben from Carnegie deli with a good old German beer. Rawwrrr.

We Are Never Full said...

what a great post! that store seems like my kind of place. i love places that are so authentic you feel a little scared when you walk in. you have to like get your nerve up.

what does that kinderchocolate fuck scare me so bad?

allaboutattitude said...

wow..... great trace and a good deliciousw background

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

This looks like an amazing place. And yup, when German food's done right... nothing like it.

Great family story, too. I had several Volga Germans in my classes when I taught in Russia. They told me all about their heritage and history.

Leigh said...

Beer. Check. Meat. Check. Yep, this place looks the shizzle. I know what you mean about blogging about places you eally love...but you gotta spread that love! My idea of Portland is from Chuck Palahnuik's Fugitives and Refugees and Richmond Fontaine songs so posts like this fill in the gaps!

Anonymous said...

I love reading family stories!

Heather said...

Kevs - The only bad thing about this place is that they're closed Sundays. :(

Court - I bet you have secret little awesome in Chicago that you didn't know about! The only Swedish deli we have is Ikea.

M. Zen - I think, based on you family tree, that you are a pirate. Probably a swarthy one.

Amy - This deli is really like a scene from the Sound of Music - it was the Ethiopian joint down the street that I felt like I had to get my nerve up.

Attitude - Thanks! I wish we had a good Malayasian place. :)

Jen - That's really interesting, I didn't think about the fact that some Germans stayed in Russia.

Leigh - Haha, I guess your sources for Portland descriptors is about as good as I'd recommend to anyone! My favorite is the Dead Kennedys song I am the Walrus - "Come on everybody, we're movin' to Portland!"

Maryann - I'm happy to share!

MrOrph said...

Oh Heather, I think I love you!

I always wanted to be stationed in Germany, for the food, for the beer, and I heard that German women liked cute Black DJ's.

Where have you been all my life!? :-)

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Looks fantastic. Good thing I'm on the other coast otherwise I'd be there all the time making the lines longer;-)

peter said...

Do you ever find yourself humming "the song of the Volga boatmen" while you chew and wipe brat juice from your chin?

Soukyan said...


That is one awesome little secret. Thanks for sharing. We've got a neat little German tavern here in Pittsburgh as well, but it lacks the store portion that your gem has. I would like to be able to buy some of the foods they serve. Great post. Edelweiss is now on my list of restaurants to visit... if I ever get to Portland. What's the tourism like? Outdoor stuff is preferred, but I do love me some karaoke and good food.


Cathy said...

Love the story and how seamlessly you integrated FOOD into it!!

There is nothing like a great Deli - Where I live in "Mayberry" we do not have great deli's so whenever I make the pilgrimage to civilization (LA) I always need to stop and get my fix.


Heather said...

Donald - Haha, whoa, cool your jets! :D

Marc - Get your own damn German deli!

Jube - I hum Flight of the Valkyries, mostly.

Ian - There is tons to do/see/eat in Portland, including ample karaoke opportunities. I'm still not taking you to Edelweiss. ;)

Helen said...

I think that is without a doubt the best looking Reuben I've ever seen. I am practically drooling on my keyboard at the sight of it.

Norm Schoen said...

Sometimes I think that the reason I moved to Portland in the first place (1993) was that it is known as "Munich on the Willamette" to Beer Geeks around the world. Being a 5th generation German immigrant I am guessing there is some kind of genetic predisposition for craft beers?

Anonymous said...

cool story. i've been meaning to try Edelweiss. Nice pig roast as well.

Sarah said...

Holy Crap Heather! Look what happens when I ignore your blog for a week. Edelweiss?! That's like, a family secret. Fuck! Dad used to take Robert and I there when we were kids. Now you just share it with the whole world? What the hell!

michelle @ TNS said...

pastrami. beer. germans. gah.

my mom is italian and that side of my heritage has totally take over me, but my father's name? rudolph carl weber.

Heather said...

Cathy - I can make anything about food. :)

Helen - I really haven't tasted any that come close to this one, but I did have a tempeh Reuben once that made want to throat-punch a hippie.

Norm - "If it don't put on hair on my chest, then fuck it", that's my motto. Okay, not really.

James - Thanks! If you happen to be in that 'hood on a Sunday and Edelweiss is closed, just pop in to the Berlin Inn next door for a Monte Cristo on French toast. It's so wrong it's right.

Hey, everyone, my sweet lil' cousin Sarah Elizabeth popped in to wag her finger at me! And she cussed and everything! :D (okay shhh don't tell your dad cuz he'll kill me)

Michelle - That's the song of the Valkyries calling you, don't fight it! Gah, German and Italian? No wonder you like food.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Sounds awesome! What an awesome family history Heather - really interesting - Didn't know about the Volga Germans, and here I am thinking I am some kind of history buff. Well I guess I suck!
I like to blame my love of Scotch on my dad's side of the family being Scottish even though, like Michelle, my Italian side completely took over!

cook eat FRET said...

great post. loved the ride.

i just ate at an austrian place in tribeca this week called blaue gans. we did it up - ordered the spaetzel and shnitzel 2 ways (both pork) - 2 kinds of sausages... some dark and delicious german beer... it was all excellent. i rarely eat that food.

Christian said...

Amazing! I'm from Argentina, and also of Volga German descent (full heritage). Naturally, I speak Spanish, since I'm an Argentine, but I can also speak the Volga German dialect because of my grandparents, and then I studied Standard German.

I'm glad to know about you and hope you continue remembering our origins.