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Thinkin' of Schinken

Das Alpenhaus Delikatessen boasts some of the best wurst

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Native to southern Germany is the concept of brotzeit, or "bread time." In the late afternoon, people stop what they're doing and sit down to a hearty snack of meat, cheese, bread and sundry savory side items like pickles, potato salad and sauerkraut. It's a tradition Americans would do well to adopt. The trouble has always been, of course, cobbling together the right ingredients--or, at least, it was. Say willkommen to Das Alpenhaus Delikatessen, a new Austrian-German-Swiss deli and eatery in Boise, co-owned by Jaime Webster and Gregory Hanson. Located in a mini-mall at 1340 S. Vista Ave., Alpenhaus goes beyond brotzeit, with eats for any occasion.

Open since Oct. 10, the space is sparkling clean, well appointed and well lit. Floor-to-ceiling windows providing a view of busy Vista and two large beer garden-style tables hewn from heavy blonde wood lend Alpenhaus a cozy neighborhood feel. During a recent afternoon visit, customers came and went in pairs—picking up fresh-sliced hunks of wursts; blocks of specialty cheese; sausages and fish from the coolers; or grocery items from the ample selection of coffees, candies, condiments and even German-language publications. Speaking of German language, more than half the patrons who came in during our visit spoke it to each other and Webster, which is just about the best recommendation you can get.

Step to the deli counter for the real attraction at Alpenhaus: a daily hot lunch special available Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., or until supplies run out. We ordered the schweinshaxe—a massive roast pork knuckle—for $20. It seems steep, but this bone-in ham hock wasn't messing around.

Weighing in at 2 1/2 pounds, the enormous cut of meat from Pennsylvania-based Forest Pork Products dwarfed the pair of dumplings and pickled red cabbage accompanying it. Digging into a traditional schweinshaxe (with which visitors to the famous Munich Oktoberfest will be familiar) feels a bit like carving a Thanksgiving turkey. Beneath a hard-cooked shell of skin dusted with rock salt, the roasted meat was a masterpiece of dense, rich flavor and was still juicy as the next day's leftovers. The sides had their own charm: The warm pickled cabbage was simultaneously smoky, sweet and sour, studded with bits of beautifully blackened bacon. Covered in a light gravy, the dumplings offered a perfect spongy consistency and were the very definition of comfort food.

In addition to hot service, Alpenhaus also offers a build-your-own sandwich option for $7.99. We asked Webster for his recommendation, and were rewarded with hot pastrami and muenster cheese on seven-grain bread, with mustard, warm sauerkraut and chilled cucumbers, and a German-imported pickle on the side.

The sandwich was a robust noontime meal and a perfect introduction to Alpenhaus, made all the more so by the inclusion of juniper berries in the kraut.

"Those just give you a little, 'Hello, mouth. How are you?'"said Webster, the welcoming proprietor, who said he was inspired to open the deli after a lifetime affinity for German culture and food and a long stint living in Thuringia, a region in east-central Germany.

With the goal of "bringing a piece of the beloved Alps to the Boise area," Hanson and Webster did their homework. The respectable wine and beer selection at Alpenhaus features dozens of labels, some of which are available at other markets in town, but several that don't often make their way from Europe to the Treasure Valley.

Better yet, Alpenhaus has been hosting a handful of beer and wine tastings in December, featuring bottles from various vendors and samples of its deli offerings. Check the Facebook page (facebook.com/dasalpenhausboise) for events.

On a return trip to Alpenhaus, we ordered a half-pound of wurst, a half-pound of rauchkase (smoked cheese) and loaf of German rye bread for a Saturday brotzeit every bit as lecker as the real thing.

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