My husband and I spent some time in Austria last month. To be completely honest we went to Austria because we were looking for the cheapest and easiest way to get close to Hungary. Budapest was my real goal. However once we experienced the beauty, history and food of Austria we considered ourselves lucky to have made the travel choices we did.
Austria is situated in a rather interesting spot. On the border between Eastern and Western Europe it’s squished between Slavic countries to the south and of course neighboring Germany to the north whom they share a common language. Because of the shared language and similarities in food many often falsely peg Austrian food for German, but make no mistake, Austrian cuisine is all its own…and it’s delicious.
Café Katja in the Lower East Side is an authentic Austrian restaurant. In my opinion, it’s a true gem. It’s our “go to” place to take guests for many reasons. The atmosphere is spot on. The Austrian menu is new to some but approachable for all. The prices are extremely reasonable. And most of all the food is consistently delicious.
We’ve sampled much of the menu and I won’t go through the whole thing, but here’s a greatest hits list:
Let’s start with cocktails!
Their Lower East Cider is described as “dangerous” by the owner. It’s vodka, fresh pressed cider and Dr. Brown’s cel-ray. It’s to die for.
They have a Gin Radler which perhaps defeats the idea of a typical radler which is a lower alcohol content beer and lemon mixture, but is none the less fantastic. Tart, floral and refreshing.
Next, choose a beer from their half dozen drafts or longer bottle list to go with your meal.
Home made liverwurst – If a liver dish is on a menu we order it, so believe me when I say this liverwurst is worthy of praise. Perhaps the creamiest liverwurst I’ve ever had it’s perfectly seasoned, mild and addictive. They present a very generous portion and pair it with a red onion jam. And finally, a place exists that gives you enough toast to enjoy the entire croc of spread without having to beg your waiter for more.
Aufschnitt teller – This plate of cured meats, spreads and home-made pickles is the perfect thing to share with a party of four. If you have to wait at the bar for a table order this platter and a few cocktails, munch, talk and your name will be called before you know it. There’s something for everyone on this platter.
Emmentaler sausage – I can tell you from experience that the Austrians love their cheese filled sausages, and you will too. This sausage stays unbelievable moist because of the cheese injection. Paired with a bread dumpling and cabbage this dish will take you straight to Austria.
Berner wurstel – This sausage is for the meat eater of your group. The guy who orders his steak with a side of pork chop. This sausage is wrapped with bacon and cooked until it’s crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. They serve it with a light-ish cucumber and potato salad.
Hickory Smoked Salmon – This is one of the best pieces of salmon I’ve had in a while. They hot smoke it then quickly sear it so it’s got the taste of smoked salmon with the delicate flakey texture of perfectly cooked fish. Not sure how much of this type of dish I saw when I was in Austria but it’s perfection.
Wiener Schnitzel – This dish sounds touristy but it isn’t. It’s such a beloved dish in all of Austria. We saw local after local after local devouring enormous plates of pounded and fried pork or veal cutlets. Add a squeeze of lemon and some new potatoes and you’re eating like a local.
Austrian meatballs – I didn’t personally try this dish but I’m told its comfort food in a ball…a big ball. Meatballs are a very popular food in many parts of Europe, not just Italy. I’ve had fantastic ones in Belgium and these looked very similar. Large, super moist and yummy were words used to describe them.
There are some vegetarian options like spatzle (dense little noodles) and creamed spinach topped with a poached egg and veggies. Both sound filling and delicious (although not vegan).
Skip dessert and have an authentic Austrian schnapps. This isn’t the sugary liquor we know here in the states. It’s basically infused vodka and it’s wonderful. If you’re a drinker you shouldn’t leave without trying a glass. Sip it, don’t shoot it, and savor the flavor.
Café Katja is welcoming in both its décor and staff. They don’t take reservations and although there is probably seating for 25 – 30 we almost always have to wait a few minutes. It is, however, worth it. I promise.