Jägermeister — the namesake of the digestif — is the German word for “master hunter,” or a professional hunter for a village. Before he and his family started the influential, nationally celebrated charcuterie company, Olympia Provisions, Elias Cairo lived in the Swiss Alps, apprenticing for the chefs and butchers and jägermeister of the community of Wildhaus. There, he learned how to make sausages and charcuterie, and traveled around the broader region, falling in love with the food and drink of the Alpine countries: Melty raclette cheese, venison, ice-cold schnapps. “It’s one of those regions where the food fits the climate so well,” Cairo says. “And that fits here so well: to hunker down, to get into really delicious, comforting food. On a rainy day, it’s so ideal for this area.”
Throughout Cairo’s history in Portland, echoes of his time in the Alps have appeared in his work: German and Austrian sausages and French salami are stalwarts within Olympia Provisions’ catalogue, and his Southeast Division restaurant, Olympia Provisions Public House, has slowly grown its menu to include a broader selection of Alpine fare, from fondue to käsepäetzle.
Starting this week, that Southeast Division Olympia Provisions space will fully commit to an Alpine schtick. Alpenrausch — opening Thursday, November 16 — will explore the culinary commonalities between the Alps and the Pacific Northwest, particularly foraged produce, high-elevation wines and spirits, and hearty comfort food.
The Alps stretch across eight countries: France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. The cuisines of those individual countries vary, but near the Alps, certain themes emerge: Cured meats, to preserve products through long winters; dairy, often milked from the Alpine breeds of cattle and turned into cheese; plenty of carbs, in the form of breads, pastas, and dumplings. Cold-climate produce like potatoes and wild foods like mushrooms and game make several appearances, as well. “Alpine food expands through such epic reasons,” Cairo says. “Savoie in France, all the nooks and crannies in the Austrian regions — It’s fun to let people know it’s not just sauerkraut and sausages.”
The menu starts with a wide range of snacks with clear Alpine ties: Bavarian pretzels with cheese for dunking; schwammerlsuppe, or foraged mushroom soup with sour cream; brandied bone broth with pork shanks. Those familiar with the Public House will see familiar dishes with clear ties to the new restaurant, like kasekrainer, an Austrian cheese-studded sausage, and käsepäetzle, a cheesy dumpling-esque noodle.
Another noteworthy appetizer is the restaurant’s take on raclette, perhaps Switzerland’s most famous dish: molten cheese poured over things like potatoes, cornichons, and cured meats. Cairo remembers visiting a restaurant known as the Gäde, where the cheese was roasted by the fire, served alongside a wide selection of schnapps. To recreate the memory, Cairo found tableside ice luges, so those who order raclette service can pair their melty cheese with chilled brandies. The raclette here will be warmed tableside, with new potatoes, cornichons, marinated onions, and mustard seeds; diners can also opt to add landrauchschinken, a Swiss smoked ham, to their service.
Another facet of the menu Cairo is excited about is the use of venison, available as a tartare on the appetizer menu and as a tenderloin on the entree menu, almost in the style of steak frites. “In the Alps, they really celebrate venison and duck,” he says. “It’s just so delicious.”
The restaurant’s take on duck arrives with rosti and dried cherry jus — rosti, a Swiss potato cake, also appears as a foundation for smoked trout and chevre, while dried cherries appear in a chanterelle “rillette” with fennel. Wild mushrooms are abundant on the menu at Alpenrausch, also accompanying a chicory-wrapped trout with spaetzle and brown butter. “When I came home, the wild produce out here — the chanterelles, the morels, the nettles — it really was quite similar,” Cairo says.
Many dishes on the menu are meant to be shared among two or four people, including — of course — a sausage board with new potatoes and house-made sauerkraut, as well as fondue service. Fondue at Alpenrausch starts with a blend of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheese, with plenty of booze and fresh garlic. It’s served with Olympia Provisions kaisekrainer, bratwurst, and cured meats, as well as fruit, chicories, new potatoes, pickles, bread, and other seasonal vegetables. The fondue first made an appearance on the Olympia Provisions menu, but it’s far from the version often served in American restaurants, which tends to have a consistency closer to queso. “We were scared when we first made that fondue,” Cairo says. “It’s runnier; it thickens as you go. But people really like it.”
The restaurant closes this week to change over the space, which will soon be filled with antiques and tchotchkes, sheepskin pillows and a fire raging on in the fireplace. Antlers and bells will hang from the walls, as well as “art that will make you go, ‘hmm!’” in Cairo’s words. Nate Tilden is making furniture for the space, as well as an Alps-inspired fence for the outdoor seating.
“We’re embracing the full corniness of the Alps,” Cairo says. “We’re going for ‘hut chic kitschy’ ... It’s one of those place where, if you went there on a Saturday afternoon, you’d stay there all day drinking wine because it’s cozy, comfortable. Get buzzed; enjoy yourself. That’s the goal.”
Alpenrausch will open at 3384 SE Division Street.