Willkommen to Oktoberfest

“You could think of us as New Hampshire’s Von Trapp family,” says Alexandra (Alex) Graf of the Inn at Danbury. She is dressed in a blue St. Pauli Girl-style dirndl as she greets guests arriving for dinner at the Alphorn Bistro, the inn’s restaurant. Alex and her husband Bob are relatively new at innkeeping; they purchased the inn less than two years ago. But with the help of their four children, Chelsea, 16, Meagan, 12, Zacchaeus, 11, and Daphne, 8, and old-fashioned gemütlichkeit (good cheer), they have created a Disney-esque version of a Bavarian inn. Each member of the family plays a role, and usually in authentic Austrian costumes. From Bob heading up the cooking, to Daphne, the youngest, passing out bread baskets, they have taken to their new life with a charming zeal. There was nothing like it in the area, says Alex, who is from the Netherlands and speaks several languages including German. The Graf family relocated from Utah about two years ago looking to create a new life. They viewed several properties in a whirlwind visit and settled on the Inn at Danbury because “it felt right.” It also had room for their large family. Alex has plenty of hospitality experience. As a girl she worked in her family’s business, and then a stint as a flight attendant for American Airlines before retiring to full-time homemaking. Bob was a ski instructor when they met close to 20 years ago, and in his early days was taught by ski legend Stein Ericksen. Since he took over duties in the inn’s kitchen, he’s had little time to hit the local slopes. With enthusiasm, grandma’s recipes and a lot of on-the-job training, he has gotten up to speed, carving beef instead of telemark turns. The inn has 13 rooms, with several accommodating four to 10 people. A one-bedroom “cottage” is ideal for larger groups, too. Nearby Ragged Mountain draws a ski crowd and the larger rooms are handy for families or small groups. The inn’s dining room or “Alphorn bistro” is open to the public. This is where you will find German cuisine served year round. Bob admits it may not be exactly “heart healthy,” but delicacies such as Jaeger schnitzel and a plate of wurst can be savored as special treats. Guests look forward to the sauerbraten served every other weekend. Bob marinates the beef brisket for five days in a wine and spice concoction. The sliced beef is served with the traditional brown gravy, flavored with gingersnap cookies. The trick is to balance the sweet and sour tastes, and Bob has it right, with the “sauer” coming out a bit ahead. A few other entrées lean toward the Hungarian, including a version of goulash. A few mainstream entrées are always on the menu. Served alongside the entrées are potato pancakes or spaetzle, the German equivalent of pasta. Instead of salad, all entrées are preceded with a refreshing duo of raw carrots and beets, seasoned with a bit of horseradish. The Grafs are continually upgrading their German beer and wine list to complement the German/Austrian theme. A series of wine dinners are planned for the fall. A special Oktoberfest party was held September 26, featuring special beers, music, dancing and a recipe contest. Alex explains that guests are fond of their family recipes, too, and this was a way for them to strut their stuff. A member of the German consulate in Boston was on hand to judge the best German potato salad and red cabbage. Winning recipes will be worked into the menu, with proper credit given. Most exciting for the new restaurant is an award of excellence from the North America Restaurant Association. A quick look at their Web site reveals that only a few of the very best restaurants were awarded that distinction. Good evidence that their hard work is paying off. Auf wiedersehen and guten essen this fall! NH
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