A Hearty Pan of Choucroute at Fàbrica Moritz

On a Monday evening in early autumn we found ourselves in Sant Antoni an hour before our showtime, so we stopped by at Fàbrica Moritz for dinner and a bottle of freshly brewed beer. The scope of this place has always fascinated me. It’s a ginormous beer-themed amusement complex, featuring a brew room lined with towering stainless steel tanks in the basement, several private event spaces and a massive neon-lit restaurant and beer tasting area upstairs. The company was original founded by an Alsatian immigrant in 1856, but it really became famous in 2004 when the brand was relaunched by the founder’s descendants as the only beer in the world whose label is exclusively in Catalan.

The menu is long and varied, which is normally not a good sign. It’s a crazy mix of Spanish, Catalan, French and German classics. There’re sandwiches made with house-baked focaccia, house-fermented pickles, all types of artisanal sausages, salads, potato-based salads, a healthy section, a steamed shellfish platter, several fried fish platters, typical Spanish vermutería aperitifs (canned clams, anchovies, olives), classic tapas, something called “eggs & pretzel,” flammkuchen (Alsatian flatbread from Strasburg), coca (Catalan version of the same), a section called “Endurance” (with stuff like Alsatian tartiflette, Swiss rösti and a cocotte of boeuf in the style of Burgundy), and another section called “Classics” (with things like Brit fish & chips, German sausage platters and Belgian moules & frites). Even their beer-side snacks are interesting and creative, things like tempura nuts and weird little nibbles of crunchy peanut ravioli. It’s absolutely insane how much thought and research must have gone into this menu and it’s incredibly difficult to choose just one thing – unless, of course, you know exactly what you’re there for to begin with. Luckily we did.

12Pâté en Croûte of Ibérico pork served with a side salad, a ramekin of pickles and sweet applesauce on the side. The pâté itself was quite dense and hearty, crumbly and coarse chunks of pork laced with solidified pools of bright white fat. It was wrapped with a thick and buttery pastry crust that was baked to a gorgeous golden brown and decorated with little curly-cue details in the dough. As the loaf cooks, a pocket of air forms above the forcemeat from the steam coming off the latter; after baking, this space is filled with aspic, which is poured in hot liquid form though holes pierced into the dough. The aspic solidifies and expands as the thing is cooled. When the loaf is finally sliced, the cross-section shows this gorgeous layer of jiggly, yellow meat stock gelatin.

As I forked my way through our slice of pie, my boyfriend told me of how in France he would eat a buffet of pâté with his teammates after important rugby games, and the story made me laugh so hard that Moritz’s signature pilsner came shooting straight out of my nose. I pictured a bunch of rugged, sweaty sportsmen standing in line with a plate in hand and eventually indulging in a delicate assiette of charcuterie and baby cornichons. Imagine a football tailgate, but replace the hotdogs and burgers with terrines and rillettes. “No baby, when you shove a chunk of fatty pâté and some pickles between two slices of bread and dunk it in mustard before each bite, it’s not fancy; it’s gross.” And I guess – yeah- this makes sense, especially considering that the stuff has its origins in peasant towns and was invented as a way of conserving meat and eating it cold so as to not have to fuss with turning on the oven. It later became a haute thing in some circles, and nowadays the cost varies dramatically based on ingredients and maybe also on the reputation of the charcutier. But actually, pâté like this one at Moritz helps me imagine that other type, the country-style version, the rough stuff shoved into crusty bread and wolfed down by hungry French rugby bros. It was certainly not the lightest appetizer for us to order, especially considering what was coming up next…

43A sizeable pan came sizzling right from the oven, loaded with strips of ham hock and fatback, sausages and potatoes all snoozing on a cozy bed of sauerkraut. This is a greasy, heavy dish and one that makes me feel at home, as it is quite similar to the grub found at the Christmas markets in Hungary and all over Eastern Europe, where the dish probably originated. It made its way into France with the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine (formerly German) in 1648 and became known there as choucroute garnie. The dish was widely adopted all over France and its recipe was tweaked a bit to suit the local palate (a.k.a. they added wine).

Moritz’s choucroute surpassed my expectations. It was the real thing, not the cleaned up, Mediterranean version; and it was a bomb, as it should be. The slices of ham were meaty and tender, with a great smoky flavor and plenty of bright white fat around the edges to keep the interior hydrated. In the sausage department, my boyfriend preferred the Weißwurst, a Bavarian white made from minced veal and pork, flavored with lemon, ginger and a hint of cardamom. It’s usually boiled instead of grilled, and traditionally the skin is not eaten, but rather the meat is sucked out. (The Bavarians call this “zuzler”) This one was soft, with a smooth consistency and a clean, mild, slightly autumnal flavor. My personal favorite was the slightly less healthy-tasting Mettwurst, a German sausage made with cured and smoked pork, loaded with salt, pepper, mustard seed, caraway and paprika. It reminded me more of sausages in Hungary: hot and spicy, with the tightly wrapped casing snapping and red grease bursting out when it’s bitten into.

What was described as bacon on the menu was actually smoked fatback, known in Hungary as szalonna. I think it was in there mostly to impart flavor and wasn’t meant to be eaten, since it was a tad chewy and, well, also 100% fat. The potatoes were fantastic, buttery smooth and sporting a thin skin that melted in the steam of the cabbage. I wasn’t expecting the potato to be so good and I really just put one on my plate for the photo, but I ended up eating the thing, even as everything else was so filling.

6

The highlight of the dish was definitely the sauerkraut itself, which lined the bottom of the pan and soaked up the smoky, salty flavors of the meats like a sponge. It was cooked perfectly, to a tender and fluffy consistency with plenty of pork fat and white wine, seasoned with bay leaf, garlic and a hint of clove. Even after putting away around a kilo of meat, sausages and potato it was hard to stop eating little bundles of the steamy and moist fermented cabbage. It kind of reminded me of the Hungarian version of the dish, töltött káposzta, in which leaves of pickled cabbage are stuffed with minced pork and rolled into little logs that are then arranged in tight rows, cooked with paprika-laden sausage and topped off with some cool Hungarian sour cream.

The service at Moritz was fast and nice. The food rocked and was the real deal. And although I’ve only tried a very slim portion of this epic menu, something tells me that the rest of it is just as good. It’s was a surprise for sure, but the good kind.

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