If a survey for “Top 50 Dinner Spots for Recent College Grads” included Dawson Waltner, Jared Friesen, and Drew Pankratz, a surprise entry might well be “local nursing home.”
The spring Tabor graduates and roommates were among about 140 community members that dined on traditional German food at Parkside Homes on Saturday.
Waltner, who grew up eating German food in Freeman, South Dakota, found out about the dinner on social media.
“I thought, ‘I’m gonna come and bring some friends with me and eat some good German food,’” he said. “It’s really good. There are a lot of choices. It’s hard to choose what to pick and eat.”
Pankratz liked the mix of people in the Parkside dining room.
“It’s cool, because you just look around and there’s all different generations of people,” he said. “We’re the young ones, there’s middle-aged and elderly as well. It’s a cool thing to bring community together with great German food.”
That’s the reaction executive director Gretchen Wagner hoped for when meal planners decided to open the dinner to the public.
“Over the last two years we have intentionally been working to bring the community in to the residents and bring the residents out into the community so that we can keep life happening for them,” she said.
Parkside has been serving German meals in response to resident requests for several years, Wagner said.
“My intent was that this is something they would’ve done on a Friday evening, to go to the Durham Café or the Breakdbasket,” dietary manager Rob Scott said. “I wanted to bring that to them.”
Scott said he knew nothing about German cuisine when he started at Parkside almost four years ago.
“I think the first one I did I told Gretchen, ‘I have no clue what I’m doing,’” he said. “I knew what bierocks were because I’ve served those everywhere I’ve worked, but I didn’t know what verenika were, or zwieback, or any of the other foods.”
Residents and community members schooled Scott in German cuisine and provided input on menus. The recipes he used came primarily from residents, and he soon discovered there was more than one way to fix most dishes.
“I’ve learned that everyone has their own recipe for every single dish,” Scott said. “I will never make it right for someone, but a lot of people enjoy what we do here.”
Scott spent nearly 12 hours Friday preparing desserts, making 15 different pies and six different cakes. He was back in the kitchen at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to fix a variety of dinner items, assisted by four cooks.
There was just one glitch in the process.
“I made strawberry rhubarb pie, and of course it didn’t set up,” he said.
Residents enjoy sharing their favorite foods with family and friends, and the dinners often bring back memories for some, Wagner said.
“Food always sparks that,” she said. “Whether it’s the discussion of ‘I didn’t make vereneka this way, ours was sweet and had a sweet sauce,’ or a discussion about how zwieback were formed, it sparks something from their memory and gives them something meaningful to talk about.”
The dinner was a memory-making event for Jared Friesen, who was leaving Monday for a job at Texas A&M University.
“I grew up with verenika, borscht, everything except for, what are those things we had today, bierocks?” he said. “I’m really going to miss it. Not just for the food, but also for being with friends.”
Proceeds from the dinner will be used to defray the cost of charitable care Parkside provides, Wagner said. She wasn’t certain when they will have another German dinner, but the enthusiastic response of the community virtually guarantees a repeat.