Almresi in Vail seems to contain a portal to the woods of Bavaria | VailDaily.com

Almresi in Vail seems to contain a portal to the woods of Bavaria

Katie Coakley
EAT Magazine
Price: $9-$44Ambiance: An enchanted forest cabin (with nary an elf in sight)Signature dish: Hut Essen, "eat your hat"

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step; a trip to the heart of the Black Forest begins with a flight of stairs. Almresi, located at the top of Bridge Street, seems to contain a portal to a cabin nestled in the woods of Bavaria.

Here, surrounded by reclaimed German barn wood, cozy woolen throws and enough cowbell to satisfy Christopher Walken, guests gather with family and friends for a dining experience that feeds the heart, soul and stomach.

Make your plans in advance (dinner reservations fill up quickly) and make sure to wear loose clothing so as to fully indulge in German, Austrian and Swiss dishes like Schweinelendchen, pork loin with spaetzle, mushroom sauce and red cabbage; schweizer rösti, a Swiss rösti with homemade farmers cheese, fresh herbs and smoked salmon or the alpen gnocchi, filled with chestnut truffle and topped with a tomato-gorgonzola cream sauce.

“I think the only thing we really kept from the winter menu that we didn’t have last summer was the alpen gnocchi, the truffle gnocchi, because people loved it so much,” Alyssa Thoma says.

Lighter options include the Happy Creek Trout Salad with seasonal mixed greens, red beets and orange slices with smoked trout fillet and horseradish cream and soups like Backerbsensuppe, a boullion with fried butterpearls and scallions.

But perhaps the most iconic dish is an Austrian original, the hutessen or “Eat your hat.” On this hot, iron hat, guests cook their beef to their own specifications. It’s served with salad, potatoes and various dipping sauces and is guaranteed to have you tipping your own hat to the chefs.

And even if you think you can’t fit another morsel, be sure to peruse the desserts. Apfelstrudel is a classic, as is the original Austrian Kaiserschmarr: a fluffy pancake, ripped into little pieces, with caramelized, powdered sugar on top and a cherry compote on the side.

“Every great dinner should end with a little dessert,” Alyssa says.

If waiting until dinner for your Austrian fix is not an option, head to Almresi for “breakfast,” served from 12 to 3 p.m. in July and August. In addition to the regular menu, a few specials are on offer like Weisswurst, which translates to white sausage. A traditional Bavarian sausage, “you have to peel the skin off to get to the really good stuff and then you have a sweet mustard and a pretzel on the side,” Alyssa explains.

This special meal time, whether you call it breakfast or brunch, is another opportunity to gather together and enjoy Almresi’s unforgettable food…and perhaps a German or Austrian beer or schnapps. After all, it’s summer and these long, bucolic days are made for indulging.