Finally Tasting Baeckeoffe at Auberge des Trois Châteaux in Eguisheim

Following an afternoon spent touring and tasting (and learning, a lot!) at Domaine Jean Baptiste Adam in Ammerschwihr and Humbrecht 1619 in Gueberschwihr, we were in need of a warm and hearty meal to heal our Riesling-stung gums. We tried a few spots in Gueberschwihr, but the town were largely deserted that evening and the menu offerings at neither of the town’s two restaurants really appealed to me. I had only one thing on my mind: Baeckeoffe. I saw it on the menu of every decent-looking restaurant we passed in Alsace and by the third day, I had to have it. Fighting back car-sickness through the rather curvy, bumpy ride, I searched for restaurants in nearby Eguisheim that would offer this specialty. Scrolling past far too many TripAdvisor and Yelp recommendations, I came upon a blog recommending Auberge de Trois Chateaux. This very decent-looking 2* hotel has rooms ranging from 60-100 euros in the center of Eguisheim, by far the most beautiful of the towns we visited. The restaurant is very Alsatian in décor, with exposed wooden beams in the ceiling, hand-carved wooden chairs and columns. Chef Olivier Wolff prepares rustic Alsatian dishes with only local products. Appetizers include the famous tarte à l’oignon, a salade vigneronne with shredded sausage and Emmental cheese, herring in a cream sauce, a crunchy, flaky pastry with Munster… There is pike perch prepared with Crémant d’Alsace and steak-y things for those who want that. But my focus was on their local specialties section, which include the ubiquitous choucroute garnie, jambonneau and a very alluring fricassée of pork feet and jowl prepared “à la ancienne.” Suffice it to say, choosing is a nightmare.

But somehow, we managed. We ordered the escargots, which were “à la alsacienne” in that they’re cooked with dry local white wine. Six of these came served in a cast iron escargot dish, little pockets filled with butter, flavored with lots of parsley. Take your specialty escargot spoon, fish out one of these little buggers, douse it generously in the thicker part of its green dressing, and pop it in your mouth. The texture is plump and a bit chewy, much like a mushroom, and the flavor takes on that of the sauce: fragrant green parsley, lots of shallots and stingy garlic, some Alsatian Riesling for good measure… A very nice way to start the meal, made even better by the pillow-soft bread, perfect for dunking in the leftover sauce.

We also ordered a glass of Pinot Gris, from Paul Schneider & Fils, which went nicely with both the appetizer and entrees to come. At this point, unfortunately, I have to share that one of the waitresses was incredibly rude to me, almost rude enough, in fact, to ruin our meal. With an accent – sure – but politely, and in French, I asked to see the bottle from which we had just been served. Instead, the woman brought me a random bottle of wine and made patronizing gestures about snapping a photo. From a restaurant that prides itself on its wine list, located smack in the middle of the Alsatian Wine Route, I was expecting a bit more understanding in this matter… The waitress then proceeded to include an elderly female patron in her joke, sardonically asking her “Voulez-vous une photo aussi?” less than a meter away from where I was eating. I continue this article with my focus on the food, which was exquisite and completely unaffected by the rude, uneducated behavior of this waitress. I just wish I could have fully enjoyed what was to arrive at our table next without being made to feel like an outsider and losing most of my appetite. Anyway…

While touring the Wine Route of Alsace, few things hit the spot quite like a big old bowl of baeckeoffe. The name, meaning baker’s oven” in the local Alsatian dialect, is telling of the dish’s story of origin. Back in the day, women of these villages used to prepare this dish before laundry day, dropping a terrine-full off with the local baker before hitting the wash-bin. The bakers would line the rim of the casserole dish with raw dough and place the lid on top, in order to seal the pot and block the moisture from escaping. They would then throw the terrines into their stone ovens, which would slowly cook the ingredients throughout the day. On the way home, the ladies would pick up their little pots, along with a loaf of bread, and wam-bam, Sunday lunch is ready. Traditional baeckeoffe contains chunks of pork, beef and lamb marinated in a full bottle (or even more) of local dry Riesling and slow-cooked with slices of potato and other vegetables, seasoned with juniper, bay leaves and cloves. The exact recipes varies from one village to the next, even from one home to the next. In just one bite it became my favorite meat-and-potatoes dish.

This version at Auberge des Trois Châteaux was wonderful. As I leaned over my bowl, I breathed in Riesling-scented steam, which sharpened my appetite and made my mouth water. The yellow potatoes were the perfect texture, buttery smooth and waxy, with just enough starch given off to thicken the liquid around it. The meats were absolutely beautiful, tender and juicy, especially the lamb, which brought its signature game-y character to the dish. Here and there, translucent threads of leek melted against potato and meat, adding a delicate sweetness to the jumble of flavors. There were also carrots and onions, simmered to softness, contributing even more texture. I loved everything about this dish, right down to the presentation in a “grandma’s house” bowl with a floral pattern painted on. A proper baeckeoffe is a meal that stays with you a while and I’m already itching to attempt it at home, with a nice bottle of Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Riesling that we brought back from our trip.

Ben ordered the La Bouchée à la Reine, which is a kind of chimney of flaky, crispy puff pastry stuffed and surrounded with a delicious filling of meat and veg, and coated with a voluptuous, silky and thick cream. I only tried a small bite of it, but it was very nice. The tender cubes of chicken and pork were accompanied by plump pieces of mushroom, some carrot and a kind of fluffy gnocchi or dumpling. The sauce was also heavenly, seasoned delicately with nutmeg, exactly the kind of thing I would choose to ladle over my column of pastry, if given the chance.

To be honest, we left Auberge des Trois Chateaux in a terrible mood, 100% consequent of my treatment by the waitress. But as the negative memories of this individual fade, the fond memory of the food remains ever so clearly in mind. I’d definitely recommend this cozy restaurant in Eguisheim for those seeking an authentic version of the Alsatian classics.

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