Chef Luciano Moral’s Sauerkraut Balls at the Augusta Irish Pub in Augusta, Kentucky.
Summer is the season for road trips. It’s time to get out and explore the country and sample the arts, food, and fun of America’s small towns. Last Saturday, I decided on just one such roadtrip to Augusta, Kentucky. It was their annual Art in the Garden weekend Augusta is a charming Ohio River town, known for being the home of Rosemary Clooney, the aunt of George Clooney. It is also famous for a long time restaurant it had called the Beehive, of which Rosie was a regular customer. The drive there is a scenic one along Route 50, with a few minute ferry across the Ohio on the Jenny Ann. One of my friends, Ken, a Maysville area artist, was exhibiting new works from his recent stay in Oauxaca, Mexico, and I was excited to see them. I was also carrying a stash of gochugaru Korean pepper for him I had bought in large quantity for an upcoming kimchee experiment..
What I didn’t expect to come out of this trip was a lesson on how legacy recipes travel. My friend Ken knew I’d written about Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati, and while visiting him at his booth he said he wanted to introduce me to someone. It turns out he knew the former chef of the Beehive, Luciano Moral, a Cuban born chef, opera singer, and artist. With a Cuban name, you’d never know he had one of the best recipes for sauerkaut balls in the area. While Luciano had closed the Beehive a few years ealier, he did still make the said kraut balls for the local Augusta Irish Pub.
So where does a Cuban get a great recipe for a German-American dish like sauerkraut balls? As it turns out, from the former owners of Forest View Gardens in Monfort Heights on the West Side of Cincinnati. Forest View Gardens was a Broadway-meets-Bavaria place which used CCM students to wait tables and perform a nightly show of opera and showtunes. I had written about this historic restaurant in my book, which closed in 2001 after a phenomenal 61 year run. Luciano had learned this recipe from the second generation owners of the restaurant, Trudie Seybold, which she had learned from her mother, Jennie Klose, a German immigrant. This recipe was over 76 years old, and had travelled over 50 miles southeast from its origin, and through now three restaurants.
Moral was born in Bon Candelaria, Cuba, 78 kilometers west of Havanna. He came to Florida at the age of 14, with the other refugees of the late 60s Castro regime. Trudiy was a music teacher at the time, and picked Moral’s dulcet tenor out of a school choir. She became his legal guardian and vocal coach and later helped bring his family to America. Moral won a scholarship to Curtis Music Institute and Acadamy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. He made money on the side cooking for restaurants. Later he sang and worked at Forest View Gardens, before opening the Beehive in the early 80s I told him how I’d written about Forest View Gardens, and he told me that he still made their recipe sauerkraut balls for the Pub in Augusta and I could taste them while I was here.
So, I decided to visit the Pub for a taste of this wonderful legacy recipe. Up until this time, I ranked Mecklenburg Garden’s homemade sauerkraut balls as the best in Cincinnati. I have to say I now consider the Forest View Garden recipe via Luciano Moral to be the best I’ve tasted to date. But since the recipe only exists in Kentucky, Mecklenburg’s title still exists! Moral’s kraut balls have a great crunchy textured outside, with a dense, sauerkraut, creamy, meaty interior. It’s almost the perfect ratio of cream cheese-to-sausage-to-kraut. They’re almost as dense as a hushpuppy, but still not so dense as to be recognized as a sauerkraut ball. And, with the cream they are definitely a Cincinnati-German version of the sauerkraut ball. (Sauerkraut balls made north of the 275 loop do not include cream cheese)
Chef, Operatic Tenor, visual artist, and kraut ball maker, Luciano Moral.
There’s a great deal of props in order for a recipe that can travel 50 miles, across a river through two states, and through two successful legacy restaurants and still be demanded by former customers at a new location. It’s this exact type of foodway that keeps our family food traditions alive, and brings our hyper-regional foods to new mouths and generations. The travel of this wonderful legacy recipe is the epitome of food etymology and archeology. It’s what keeps this Food Dude inspired!