By Nancy Covert
Back in my growing-up days in the North Side Pittsburgh neighborhood, it was customary to order a pretzel cake from Aumer’s Bakery.
Eating a slice of the sweet, saffron-colored, raisin-studded bread at the stroke of midnight of New Year’s Eve was supposedly good luck, according to my mother, who indoctrinated her four daughters in all the Seasonal holiday traditions handed down from my German grandmother.
(Who used to terrorize me, when I misbehaved, threatening that she’d cut off my ears—and make the ‘blud fly’! Yipes!
Eventually a purloined pretzel cake recipe came West with my household goods, and most years I made it for my own family’s celebration.
That embedded appreciation of traditional German holiday foods bubbled to the surface recently after I stopped at Hess’s Bakery and Deli in Lakewood. Dozens of store patrons, carrying baskets heaped with sausages, sauerkraut, potato salad, pretzel bread, liqueur-filled chocolates, wines and more, queued around the store that afternoon, undoubtedly thinking ahead to their upcoming holiday celebrations.
“Kiki” Cardenas, one of the store’s current owners, said that Tony and Hilda Hess, the store’s original owners, began the business in the Tacoma area in 1963, opening the Lakewood site in 1980. Tony passed away in 2006, the year that Kiki and his wife, Birgitta, bought the business. Today the popular destination employs 15 people, and, Kiki added, “It’s the second largest German Deli/Grocery/Bakery on the West Coast.”
Deli items include German Rye bread, as well as the meats that arrive weekly from New Jersey, Chicago; even Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The meats, Kiki continues, all are fresh and “cut to order.”
Owning the Deli/Bakery was ideal for Kiki who’d studied baking while in Germany. He arrives at the shop early to begin each day’s baking.
“All the breads are baked fresh daily,” he said, adding that day-old items are reduced in price, and whatever remains is delivered to the Lakewood VA Hospital’s Food Bank.
This time of year particularly, thousands flock to the Mt. Tahoma Drive business, buying grocery items such as jams, gummi candies, cheeses, bratwurst, knockwurst, even international newspapers and magazines…you get the idea.
The miniature foil-wrapped chocolate bottles, filled with liqueur, are an especially popular item. A customer phoned that afternoon and ordered three 48-bottle boxes.
My own purchases? An assortment of wursts, a small container of potato salad, pretzel bread, an iced pretzel cake, a bottle of Gewürztraminer and a foil-wrapped chocolate bottle. (To accompany the pfeffernuse and stollen that my sisters mailed from the ‘Burgh.)
Fröehlich Weinachten, y’all!
Not to overlook the German Pastry Shop that’s next door—actually, across the hallway, but Dominique and Sandra Lalague’s pastry and coffee shop is equally as popular—Apple Strudel is my favorite, while my daughter—who speaks the language better than I—loves the marzipan-frosted cakes.