The excuse to eat and drink oneself silly is evident in every culture. Americans have Thanksgiving, the Irish have St. Patrick’s Day, the Chinese have Chinese New Year and Moon Festival. And the Germans have Oktoberfest.
But Trojans do not need to travel overseas for a license to feast, because The Lab, USC Hospitality’s very own gastropub on Figueroa Street, is bringing the German celebration right across campus with its Oktoberfest menu, including a selection of traditional German beers.
The best time to visit The Lab is after 4 p.m. because that’s when it starts serving its homemade goulash with sautéed, hand-rolled egg noodles. It is worth visiting just for this dish alone. But arrive early — the goulash was such a hit that it was sold out on Thursday night.
The egg noodles, which are made from scratch, are chewy, thick and hardy enough to hold up to the rich beef and potato stew that comes steaming on top. The beef in the goulash is actually the same slow-braised short ribs found in The Lab’s popular IPA Short Rib Sliders, just cooked down further with chunks of potatoes in a savory tomato-based broth until the meat becomes fall-off-the-bone tender and practically melts in the mouth.
Yet another worthy dinner plate is the pork schnitzel, deep-fried boneless pork served with German potato salad and sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon. The best part about this dish isn’t the schnitzel — which turned out a bit dry because of the thinness of the meat — but the side dishes.
Even if you detest Brussels sprouts, these pork fat-infused sprouts sautéed with vegetable stock, carrots, onions and corn will convert you. There is no weird cabbage smell — just a wonderful symphony of flavors and textures.
Chef Craig Orrell made a wise decision by serving the potato salad cold instead of in the traditionally warm German style. This makes a pleasing contrast to the hot crispy schnitzel. The typical German potato salad is also usually dressed in mustard vinaigrette, but the chef opted for a blend of American tastes by mixing in creamy mayonnaise with crunchy celery and zesty chives and parsley.
If lunch is the only time when you can make it to The Lab, never fear. Order the bratwurst, which comes artfully sandwiched in a pretzel bun and smothered in braised red cabbage slaw and thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, with Bavarian mustard for dipping.
Although the grilled pork sausage can taste bland alone, the sweet and sour combination of cabbage and apple on top makes a perfect complement. Beef lovers can order the knockwurst, which is basically the same dish except it uses beef sausage instead of pork.
For the side, opt for the sweet potato fries. Sweet potatoes are notoriously hard to cook correctly because of their higher water content, but The Lab aces the perfect fry test with its non-greasy, delightfully crispy orange spears.
But what is Oktoberfest without the beer? Approximately 66 hectoliters of beer were consumed at the 2009 Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Sample The Lab’s special beer menu and get a swig of the beer the Oktoberfest participants are guzzling down.
Most Germans typically like their beer traditional and basic. In fact, Germans are such purists that they even have a law mandating that the beer produced in Germany be limited to only four ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water. You won’t find pumpkin ale, but you also won’t find watered down, urine-like beer either.
The Lab offers three special-edition beers on tap: Spaten Pils, Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier and Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. For the bottles, it serves Erdinger Dunkel-weizen, Hacker-Pschorr Octoberfest, Sparten Optimator Doffelbock and the Hofbrau Munchen Original Lager. These are generally darker beers.
Even if you can’t legally drink, don’t pass up the chance to try out The Lab’s seasonal menu. Chug down some Diet Coke, fork up some goulash and get buzzed on The Lab’s warm, inviting environment and laid-back service.
The communal tables encourage close sittings and perhaps even loose conversations with the stranger beside you. The interior design is set to give off a science laboratory ambiance with its chalkboards and slate-topped tables, but guaranteed to keep every student happy and enthusiastic for a fun gastronomical class.
Don’t be late for this class though — the Oktoberfest menu ends Nov. 4.
Correction: 10/4/2010: The Lab’s Oktoberfest menu runs until November 4th; a previous version of this story misidentified the date the menu would end. This version of the story has been corrected to reflect the change. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.