I was around seven or eight when I first ate späetzle in the small, tidy kitchen of my grandmother's house in Kansas City. She was fiercely German, taught sign language in German and English, and she had shelves of vintage German cookbooks, all of which had lots of cabbage recipes, none of which particularly interested me.
But the cookbooks with chapters dedicated to hearty, starchy, oddly shaped dumplings and noodles intrigued me, and that, in turn, delighted my grandmother, because there was nothing she loved more than making späetzle, Germany's answer to the dumpling -- and that country's greatest gift to the culinary world. My grandmother passed away more than two decades ago, but I still think about her -- and her späetzle -- and over the past few weeks, I've noticed späetzle dishes on several local restaurant menus, and it's easy to see why: It's a virgin canvas of few ingredients -- flour, salt, water or milk and eggs -- that, like pasta, is the ideal vessel for sponging up whatever flavors you put with it. "I think we're seeing späetzle on menus, because there's been upsurge of interest in Northern and Eastern European food," says John Broening, executive chef of Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar, one of the restaurants that's included in the following list of my five favorite places to find späetzle.
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TAG Alaskan halibut with pea-and-carrot späetzle
Troy Guard's menu at TAG is always full of come hither temptations, and right now, I'm head over heels for his halibut paired with späetzle, crisp-edged teardrops mingling with fresh peas and carrots. It's a dish that's a beautifully focused testament to the bright, light flavors of spring, and Guard elevates the plate with beet chips, which add texture, as do the hazelnuts, and the fish, which flakes at the flick of a fork, arrives topped with leaves of Thai basil glossed with a lemongrass vinaigrette.
Atticus Sweet potato späetzle
Diego Coconati, an Argentinean native and the exec chef of Atticus, always has a späetzle dish on his menu, and you never know what he's dreaming up next, but most recently, he regaled me with a plate of seared späetzle paired with cubes of sweet potatoes, coins of yellow squash, bok choy, onions and garlic in an herby vegetable broth tart with lemon.
Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar Orange coriander späetzle
"Späetzle is a German dish by origin -- one of a whole family of dumpling dishes in German cooking -- and it's also ubiquitous on menus in Alsace-Lorraine, which is why it's on the Le Grand menu," says Broening. His terrific spaetzle, which benefits from the addition of fresh orange juice and zest, along with coriander, plays first fiddle to a ragout of duck leg crowned with black olives and hot chiles. "The dish isn't traditional -- the duck ragout is Provencal and the späetzle is Alsatian -- but it's delicious," says Broening, a declaration that I wholeheartedly agree with. Broening will only be serving his späetzle through Sunday, however, because Le Grand is shuttering after dinner service Sunday night. Still, "we're going to do a späetzle with wild mushrooms and emmental cheese when we open the upcoming Griffin," promises Broening.
Solera Grilled pork chop with whole grain späetzle
The menu at Solera, Goose Sorensen's lovely spot on East Colfax, never fails to impress -- in fact, it just keeps getting better and better -- and his imposing, thick-cut pork chop, all char and juice, is a stunner all on its own. But its sidekicks -- branded Brussels sprouts, baked apples, nubs of bacon and a knoll of whole-grain späetzle -- levitates the dish to new heights, and the butter-bathed späetzle, especially, is a scholarly version that steals your attention.
Euclid Hall Späetzle with housemade whiz
Not surprisingly, the späetzle at Euclid Hall, Jennifer Jaskinki's profoundly playful shrine to upscale pub grub, is the kind of späetzle that's designed to make your eyes roll backward and your arteries sputter. It's also the kind of späetzle that pairs perfectly with one of Euclid's beers. The crisp and tawny noodles, showered in butter and served in a large bowl, are sheeted with a white cheddar cheese sauce -- exec chef Jorel Pierce's diabolically delicious version of cheese whiz -- and the result is an emotional surge of ecstasy that's hard to process. Späetzle is supposed to be peasant food, but Pierce turns it into noodle crack.
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