Chef Morgan’s Weisn Balls at Eiderdown in Louisville, Kentucky.
In a town known for it’s b’s- bourbon, Benedictine spread, hot Browns, baseball bats – I was surprised to find another b that tops my list – sauerkraut balls. Louisville, Kentucky, introduced me to my now favorite sauerkraut ball yesterday on a foodie trip there with a friend – just in time for Oktoberfest Season. These balls are the genius invention of Chef Brian Morgan at Eiderdown Restaurant in Louisville’s new hipster Germantown or ‘Gtown’ corridor along Goss Avenue. Other restaurants like Four Pegs, Post, and Germantown Craft House all are within walking distance.
I shouldn’t be surprised that the best German sauerkraut balls are in Louisville, Kentucky, or that the best two balls on my Food Dude Best Balls list are found in Kentucky. My top three are now Eiderdown, Augusta KY Pub, and Mecklenburg Gardens. The Louisville Germans gave us the Kentucky Common – one of only three domestic takes on the Germanic lager. It’s also a Germanic family, the Weisenbergers, who founded a mill in Midway, Kentucky, whose ground corn has supplied Louisville grits since the end of the Civil War. I also found on this trip at Eggs over Frankfurt in the other hipster Crescent Hill Neighborhood of Louisville, that not all grits are gloopy and flavorless. Eggs over Frankfurt’s grits are the best I’ve had so far. But as a Yankee, I’m not a grits convert yet. Let’s just say I’m grits-friendly.
This Louisville food trip also gave me my first taste of Benedictine spread (of which I’m now a super-fan), taught me how to bloom a bourbon, and the flavor benefits of a high-rye bourbon (above 35% rye grain ratio in the mash). The obligatory trip to Matt Jamie’s Bourbon Barrel Foods also sent me with a care package of bourbon infused ingredients to fill my Fall cooking sessions.
Chef Morgan calls his sauerkraut balls the Weisn Balls – and even though they’re an appetizer, he adheres to the same food philosophy he applies to his main dishes – creating freshly prepared foods with modern takes on classic flavors. And this modern take is a delicious step off of the sauerkraut ball family tree.
Some may think it kind of weird to spend so much time traveling and tasting sauerkraut balls – a side dish; just an appetizer. I’ve formulated an Ohio Sauerkraut Ball Trail, and even found a Dutch variation called the bitterballen in Covington, Kentucky’s Mainstrasse District. But as simple of a dish as they may sound, it’s not so easy to get all three of the aspects of a good sauerkraut ball combined together. A good sauerkraut ball, in my opinion, has three main aspects – crunchiness, creaminess and tanginess. You’ve gotta have a good crunch on the outside. You don’t want a wimpy breading, but you also don’t want one as thick as a hush puppy. The inside has to be both creamy with some sort of cream cheese or other melty cheese, and that marries with the right amount of tangy sauerkraut to give the ball its name.
Here’s where Chef Morgan’s brilliance comes in. For the creaminess aspect, he uses house made, fried spaetzli – the German gnocchi – and mixes it with just the right amount of sauerkraut. The creaminess you get in the bite with the spaetzle is amazing. He’s formulated a great breading that he fries to a very crunchy brown finish. A small drizzle of shaved ‘kenny’s white cheddar cheese’ is sprinkled on the top of the order of 6 balls, and served with a side of spicy sambal mayo.
It would have been hard to top such a great first bite, but the striped seabass entrée I had at Eiderdown was the best fish since Bora Bora – with pesto cream and fresh mushrooms. Chef Morgan also turns spaetzli, a German Amaleuteessen or peasant side dish, into a main dish, which my friend had, and it was pretty spectacular too. The spaetzli was boiled and then lightly pan fried, served with basil, goat cheese, ratatouille, sliced almonds and lemon oil.
As much as I hate to mess with perfection, I still think integrating red cabbage or rotkuhl into the ball would take the tanginess over the top and create a new step off the Sauarkraut Ball Family Tree. But spaetzli and sauerkraut balls I think are a brilliant combination that sure have food trend legs.