The outside of York Street Café in Newport, Kentucky.
Over the weekend I returned to one of my favorite eclectic eating spots in Newport, Kentucky – the York Street Café. It’s nestled in an 1880s Italianate corner building that once housed the George Widrig Pharmacy. The stained glass window above the original corner entrance still emblazons his name. The restaurant serves great seasonal food, and is filled with lots of cool eclectic art and antiques. It’s a fun pre-show dinner spot if you’re going to the Footlighter Theatre across the street, the Falcon Theatre one block over on Monmouth Street, the Carnegie Theatre in Covington, or a movie at Newport on the Levee.
The Widrig name sounded familiar from my Grandmother’s family tree. If you’re of German Catholic ancestry of Northern Kentucky, and your family has been in the area over three generations, the number of people you’re related to exponentially increases. Good Catholic families back then were fruitful and multiplied with large numbers of children.
Sure enough, after a lookup, I verified George Widrig was a brother-in-law of my Great Great Grandmother Philomina Krebs Brosey. George had three other brothers, Louis, Tobias, and Edward, who all were pharmacists in Newport, Kentucky. Two of their sisters, Rosalia and Maria married my ancestor, Philomina’s brothers George and Caspar Krebs. Philomina’s father and mother were Germanic immigrants from the Rhineland and Holland respectively. So they were one big old Germanic immigrant family living amongst and near each other in Newport, Kentucky.
George’s father, Tobias Widrig, had originally settled in Camp Springs, Kentucky, with other German immigrants from the Rhineland provinces, and had prospered from a successful feed business that allowed him to invest in other businesses in Cincinnati.
Tobias Widrig immigrated from St. Gallen, Swizterland, in 1844, with a small group of others from the same area. Another of his compatriots from St. Gallen, John Andrew Gubser, ran the sawmill after which the community of Gubser’s Mill, Kentucky, is named. This group of Catholic Rhineland immigrants started St. Joseph’s (1845) in Camp Springs, and then St. Peter and Paul (1853) in Gubser Mill. When their children moved into the cities of Newport, they became members of the German Catholic parishes of Corpus Christi and St. Stephens.
So, with this connection to St. Gallen , it made me think what kind of regional food this immigrant group would have eaten in their home country, what food culture they might have brought with them, and what role it plays in the evolution of our local Germanic foods.
The Canton of St. Gallen Switzerland is in the mountainous area around the Rhine River. The area was known for its cattle and livestock rearing. They did not typically raise pigs, so pork products were not part of their normal diet. This means that unlike the flatland Germanic immigrants of Northern Kentucky, the Widrigs and their Swiss compatriots were not goetta eaters. Goetta and its grain sausage cousins were products of the Fall hog slaughter. In fact, St. Gallen’s is famous for its Olmabratwurst, a white veal and beef sausage with milk that does NOT ever get dressed with mustard. Its first designation was in 1438 by the butchers guild of St. Gallen, and the recipe has remained virtually unchanged since.
The Olmabratwurst (far left) and Schublig (middle) of St. Gallen Switzerland.
Other dishes from the region are Rosti, a type of pan fried potato pancake, Chäschüechli , a savory cheese tart; and Biberli, a marzipan-filled honey-spiced cookie that probably morphed into a holiday cookie.
Tourists to the St. Gallen region today can be easily be spotted if they do put mustard on their bratwurst. Another sausage, the St. Gallen Schüblig is popular as well. It’s a beef sausage that’s typically eaten raw. Both of these sausages would have had influence on the evolution with Newport and Covington butchers – the Olmabratwurst resembles our Cincinnati Brat, and the Schublig resembles our Cincinnati Mett. Who knows if the Widrigs made their own Olma and Schüblig or found a local butcher to make them to their specs, but each had their influence on the evolution of our local sausages.