From afar and also for who knows it from up-close, Vienna is a city which complies with stereotypes. The Viennese will be pedantically accurate (an easy task when you have a functional public transportation system, Italian capital cities should try it), the public space will be extremely quiet - the central train station was as quiet as a noisy library during the rush hour, and the city will shut down early - also on weekends and even in summer. It seems that Vienna still acts as if it's the center of K.u.K (Kaiserlich und Königlich, 'Imperial and Royal'), hence the Austro-Hungarian Empire, therefore you have to act accordingly and be polite and organized. Otherwise what will the neighbors would say?
It's very easy to keep the order and the culinary traditions in Vienna since there are many of them, they are tasty and because Thus Do They All. At least on your first visit you should visit some of the culinary institutions and don't worry, it's so attractive so you'll be coming for more, and then you'll have time "to get wild" and maybe even come back to the hotel after 11 PM!
Coffee, always a good starting point. Unlike the first paragraph and the sense of order, in every place I ordered a cappuccino for example, I received something else. In Aida, the chain which started its way at the beginning of the 20th century and since the 60's keeps the pink American-diner-like style; I got a giant cup with fluffy foam next to a cute breakfast served on a 3 tier serving tray. Unlike that, in the small Kaffeehaus Wien cafè of Gerlinde Mastny right next to the opera house it was served in a tall glass which about one third of it was thick foam. As almost everywhere around Vienna, the prices are slightly higher and might make you think that the city is more expensive compared to others, but the sizes of the portions totally compensate for it.
And about the coffee? Well, it's Not like in Italy…
A breakfast - and coffee
What goes with the coffee? The first Viennese "S" which stands for Strudel, of course. I haven't been to Vienna lots of times, only a handful or so, but each time I tried to find a real Viennese strudel as I think about, and each time I return to the one of Oberlaa. The chain started its way in the Viennese quarter which goes by that name, but today it has 10 branches all around the city. Another one is supposed to open in spring 2018 at Vienna central cemetery, so if you're still looking for a more peaceful spot to have your strudel - you know where to go.
The coffee, as expected, was different from the previous ones and again in a giant mug, but the strudel… oh, the strudel… delicate apple slices, crushed nuts, raisins, scented with cinnamon and wrapped in soft and thin layers of dough which is conquered easily by the fork. It doesn't crumble but gets squashed and hugs the apples and raisins to create a perfect bite.
Time for lunch.
The heart of Vienna's culinary tradition resides in Wollzeile street ("The wool line", after the wool merchants that had their shops along it), where you can visit easily two of the institutions on it. I mean, easily after you managed to book a table which might not be easy.
Let's go, word association game! Vienna and food! According to a survey I made up just now it was found that at least one third of people will say Schnitzel. Yes, the other "S". And they're right. After a short struggle concerning a legend in which the schnitzel was brought to Austria in the mid 19th century after it was invented in Italy - Gott im Himmel! - It was proved that it appeared in Austrian recipe books already at the end of the 17th century. Therefore you can assume that it was an established dish in the Austrian cuisine even before that, and since the beginning of the 19th century appeared in cookbooks as a traditional Viennese dish.
You can find these evidences on the Virtual Schnitzel Museum website, but Figlmüller is more than a museum. The restaurant has been operating in Wollzeile since 1905 and brought schnitzel to the state of art.
As it's a well known fact, there are as many versions of schnitzel as there are restaurants and homes around the world, but here's one to remember - the Austrian and German food regulations forbids to name "Viennese Schnitzel" anything besides the ones which are made of veal. All the others are "Viennese Style schnitzels". Figlmüller on Wollzeile, surprisingly, serves its magic made of pork fillet, battered, softened and thinned to a 30 cm diameter piece, covered with crumbs of specific buns and fried in a three pans line working on different degrees of heat. The process is aimed to create a thin schnitzel sealed in a substantial and crispy cover which keeps it hot and in optimal condition on the inside until it's served at your table.
It's not trying to escape, it's really that big
And if you're conservatives, don't worry - in Figlmüller's branch on Bäckerstrasse, at about two minutes walking, they serve it in the traditional way - veal-wise.
What else on the plate besides the schnitzel? Don't listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein that let Julie Andrews sing about "Schnitzel and Noodles". It won't be your favorite thing. A real Viennese schnitzel will be garnished with a slice of lemon and potato salad. That's it.
Like schnitzel to Austrian cuisine the association for Austrian wine is an excellent minerally Grüner Veltliner, and you can have both listening to the instrumental version of John Coltrane. This is good.
If you walk for two more minutes on Wollzeile you'll get to Plachutta, one of the restaurants of Plachutta family. Surprisingly enough, the restaurant went on its way in 1987, a kiddo in traditional terms, but it doesn't stop it from reconstruct and be the landmark of the Emperor Franz Josef I favorite dish - Tafelspitz.
His Royal Highness was known for his hasty table manners that left his meals' companions hungry since they couldn't eat before he sat down and after he left the table. Ewald Plachutta who established the restaurant understood that it might work at the royal table, but not with paying customers. It might be according to his past as the head chef of Astoria Hotel in Vienna when he was only 21, but like the opposite of the monastery dish of Figlmüller - a schnitzel, a slice of lemon, potato salad - Plachutta's tafelspitz is an amusement park.
A classic tafelspitz is a Top round / Topside cut of a young ox, but in Plachutta you can ask for any cut, more or less fat, suits for a longer or shorter cooking - as you like it. I picked Kavalierspitz, a shoulder cut and therefore less fat, which was "an excellent choice" according to the waiter. Like he could have said something different. In any case you'll be served with a shiny copper casserole containing the soup in which the meat was boiled to the degree "you can divide them with a spoon" like in many Viennese recipes. Along with it you'll get many other plates and bowls: grinded and fried potatoes, apple purée with horseradish (the best!) and thick sour cream with chives. And don't forget the bone marrow that swims next to the meat which you can spread on the bread with which you'll start your meal with.
A little bit of everything
All these plates and cutlery might confuse you, as it happened to me. The waiters who swirl around are trained to spot you and serve you the dish in the right order, but as I was told passively-aggressively: "This is my job, but if you want you can do it yourself". So if you want to do it yourself check the manual for a proper tafelspitz eating on the restaurant's website.
I expected more from a royal dish, but this whole fussing around felt more like a show than a concrete dish, and I would eat in Plachutta only to make room for other restaurants on my next visits to the city.
So… Figlmüller's schnitzel is great - but a schnitzel, and Plachutta's tafelspitz might be too confusing, so what's for lunch?
When you're in Vienna don't skip a visit to the complex of Belvedere royal palace that were built at the beginning of the 18th century as a summer palace for Prince Eugen of Savoy. Today it's the home of the biggest Austrian art collection headed by Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss (Lovers)", where you can take a selfie with in the adjacent room.
What really got me there was a Claude Monet's portrait of a cook. A cook? I meant a chef! Since it's already a lot to grasp in one post you can bite-reading about Paul-Antoine Graff and his great crêpes here.
Lunch, I didn't forget about it. When you get out from the museum to Rennweg street you'll find Salm Bräu, the restaurant of O. Salm & Co. brewery. Today the brewery, which runs since 1924 brews 5 types of beer and also distils a whiskey, and it all happens under the restaurant in the old wine cellar of Vienna's mayor at the time when Belvedere palace was built. The main hall of the restaurant is named Georgsaal after the first brew master's father and used to function as the royal stables back then.
Although the restaurant was added to the brewery only in 1994, the menu in the shape of a beer glass fits the heavy wooden furniture and the massive bar and gives he patrons a traditional, not to say old fashioned, feeling. The restaurant was recommended for its spare ribs, and being the gentleman that I am I let V. pick this dish, and to help her I picked for us another dish "from grandmother's kitchen" as the menu describes it, Stelze - a cured and roasted ham hock. The beers that accompanied us where the house's wheat beer and a Pilsner, a memory for the times when Pilsen was under the imperial rule where they first started to brew it in 1840.
First arrived to the table the stelze which apparently helped a very large pork to walk around. Alongside it were served fresh grind horseradish, stingy mustard, a bread dumpling to soak the residues on the plate and sauerkraut - in beer, naturally - with caraway seeds for garnish and aroma. We got the spare ribs (yes, this is a serving for one person) with a homemade ketchup, an aggressive garlic mayonnaise and some more mustard. Both dishes were extra succulent and their texture stood exactly between tenderness and a meat which gives you a good fight until you manage to get him down. The ribs were messy in a fun way and made us ask for some more napkins - and some more.
Spare ribs Boulevard
When the battle was over we rested in our seats and planned the rest of the day. Or at least how to get up.
You might prefer not to rest too much at your hotel since Vienna shuts down early. Also in summer. Also on weekends. Not surprising that Kärntner Strasse, the main pedestrian zone, starts to fold up around 22:00 so an hour later there's no one to talk with, not to mention a place to sit and have something to drink.
It's better if you go early to Schweizerhaus which stands inside the Prater park, on the other side of the Danube, but not too far. It's easy to spot it thanks to the giant Ferris wheel in the park, and I was tipped by a local merchant in the fabulous Naschmarkt, the main market of the city, that this is the most classic place to have a beer.
Since 1766, when Schwaizerhaus started to serve beer - first to the Royal family and friends who were entertained by Swiss hunters around the park, his name changed alongside the occurrences that took place in Vienna. When it served as a hideout for smokers, a non-moral act also back then, it was called "Zur Tabakspfeife" ("At The Tobacco Pipe"), and after that "Zum russischen Kaiser" celebrating the arrival of the Russian Emperor to the city during the Viennese Congress. And we're only in 1814.
Since 1920 the Kolarik family runs the place and serves with the beer the local and traditional dishes - as their version of stelze like the one in Salm Bräu.
After all that and before going to the airport what shall you carry with you? No question at all. On every supermarket and at the flagship store right next to St. Stephen's Cathedral you can find the pink packages of Manner wafers which I consider to be the best wafers in the world.
Yep, the best wafers in the world
Here are the specifications of "Neapolitaner Schnitten No. 239" (the official name): the dimensions of each wafer are exactly 17 X 17 X 49 mm (I measured. Really), comprises 5 layers of wafers and 4 layers of hazelnut cream. At least in 1889, when Jozef Manner Started producing these wafers, the hazelnuts arrived from the town of Avella near Napoli which gave them their name. Since the 1950's each package consists of 10 wafers, but it doesn't matter because after you open one you will eat them all.
The wafers stay fresh for a long time thanks to the double aluminum layers and the red seal which were invented by the company's engineers in the 1960's. Yes, according to all the sources I gathered besides designing the biggest wafer oven in the world, with a capacity of 200 thousand wph (wafers per hour) they also developed the red tear tape that you can find almost everywhere.
Not knowing most of my readers I can bet that all of you saw these packages at least once. Did you see all of "Friends" episodes? Probably you haven't noticed that on episode 22 of Season 6 - the one in which Ross decides to run away with Elizabeth after her father Paul who's dating Rachel warns them not to do so - the wafers are under the counter at Central Perk.
You might have seen also Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. When the terminator picks some stuff at the gas station convenient store he cannot pass a package of Manner. Robot or not, Arnold Schwarzenegger is most of all Austrian.
I'll be back - for Manner, 00:21
So, meine Damen und Herren, put on your nice dresses and fine suits, straighten the hats on your heads which of course you wear as civilized human beings, and go for a little trip in Vienna between the "S" of Strudel to the "S" of schnitzel, between spare ribs and beer.
And don't forget the wafers.