As Cincinnatians, we like to think of ourselves as German 2.0 — distantly but still authentically connected to das vaterland through our love of goetta, our many breweries, Oktoberfest, etc. Yet so much of the focus on German food is on that which comes from Bavaria, leaving a world of German cuisine unexplored.
Drew Rath of Tuba Baking Co. is changing that, one Swabian-style pretzel at a time. He opened his Tuba Baking Co. storefront in Covington in September.
“Swabia has so many things that make it special, and I really wanted to make sure people could taste the most authentic version possible,” Rath says.
Swabia is located between Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in Germany. Compared to traditional Bavarian pretzels, Swabian (pronounced “schwabian”) pretzels have skinny “arms” that cook up crisp and are connected toward the top of the pretzel rather than the bottom. They also have a higher fat content from butter, more water in the dough and a slit in the “belly” to release steam.
“I began to research every recipe I could find and began translating them as best as I could from Schwabisch to German to English,” Rath says. “I wanted to incorporate grains native to the area since my ancestors were all grain millers, so I put spelt and rye in them.”
Rath found out only recently — after taking a DNA test from Ancestry.com — that his family hails from Swabia and worked with grains. The discovery led him to uncover 16 generations who came from Aldingen, a town at the foot of the Swabian Jura, seven of whom were millers. The connection became even more meaningful after Rath and his wife took a trip to Germany to visit and tour the food scene.
“We ate dozens of pretzels and so many amazing meals and beers,” Rath says. “We got to meet with bakers to find out their pretzel process. Plus, we got to visit the town my family had lived in since the 1100s or earlier and that was so emotional and amazing.
“We really felt like we got a feel for the cuisine and the culture and I was beyond inspired to bring back a menu that Americans couldn’t easily find over here.”
Although Rath started out with pretzels — his sourdough recipe takes three days from start to finish — baking them wholesale for buyers like MadTree and Urban Stead, he’s gradually expanded the menu at his pretzel bar to reflect the authentic Swabian-style foods he and his wife encountered on their trip.
He makes seasonally changing flammkuchen, a type of German flatbread pizza. He also makes fresh soups, often vegetarian, with homemade stock, and has offered pickled pumpkin — a classic fall dish in Germany — with rabbit and kielbasa from Avril-Bleh on a housemade pretzel bun.
Then there are the springerles — stunning cookies from the 14th century typically eaten around the holidays and imprinted with a traditional German mold. Rath buys and uses a baker’s ammonia called hartshorn as the cookies’ leavener rather than take a shortcut.
The food is complemented by a four-tap bar of local and imported German beers. Rath’s favorite beers include dunkels, hefeweizen, schwarzbier, pilsners and kölsch, each of which he says brings out the nuance of the pretzel dough.
Eventually visitors may be able to take their beer and pretzels to an outdoor biergarten, if Rath has his way.
“I hope to continue to expand and move into a larger space in Covington with a beer garden, a larger kids’ space, maybe brew a few beers and apfelmost, a Swabian dry hard cider with low carbonation,” he says. “I’d like it to be a slice out of Germany, similar to Hofbräuhaus but on a more mom-and-pop scale. I definitely want to be able to have a bakery area where people can pick up fresh, authentic German baked goods throughout the week.”
He currently has help on that front from baker Kate Nycz of North South Baking Co., who contributes croissants, pies and other rotating bakery items to Tuba.
Although Rath’s storefront is smaller than his ultimate dream for the company, it was a perfect fit for his and Nycz’s range of products. The building used to be a beer hall in the 1800s, a fact Rath didn’t even know until he’d visited the space. The basement was a Prohibition-era brewery, and with three kids under 6 at home (who he’s hoping will inherit his passion for German baking), Rath loves the size and commitment. He still spends his weeks fulfilling wholesale orders for local restaurants, breweries and food shops, so the storefront is only open from 3-10 p.m. on Saturdays — although he’s open to expanding his hours eventually.
If you’re looking for the newest food platter worthy of your social media feed during the holidays, a pretzel tray might be just the thing, arranged with German-style cheeses and meats. Rath recommends pairing the pretzels, which he also sells as round bites, with various types of compound butters for a traditional presentation.
Keep an eye on Tuba’s Facebook and Instagram feeds, as they’re updated almost daily with the shop’s offerings, often bolstered by food products from other local businesses.
Tuba Baking Co., 212 W. Pike St., Covington, facebook.com/tubabakingco.