Pass the Wiener Schnitzel; it's Austrian Independence Day

SC Times
By Jake Laxen,
October 24, 2014

When Nix Wudak walked past the Wiener Schnitzel in the buffet line at the Austrian Independence Day celebration at Michael's Restaurant, she got a little nostalgic.

The pounded-out breaded pork steak brought back flashes of her childhood.

"This was my Sunday, every Sunday when I was a kid," said Wudak, now an English as a Second Language teacher who is working on obtaining her master's degree at St. Cloud State University. "I was pounding Schnitzel, breading Schnitzel, tasting Schnitzel and arguing who got the last Schnitzel.

"It's fun to see people eating Schnitzel. It was something that was special for me."

Wudak grew up with her two older siblings in the United States, but her father, Heinrich, is from Austria, and her mother is Hungarian.

Heinrich, who still speaks with a thick Austrian accent, has run Michael's off U.S. Highway 10 for more than 20 years. He grew up near Vienna and came to the U.S. in 1971, living in Vermont for 15 years before coming to St. Cloud, where his wife is a teacher.

Heinrich has siblings who still live in Austria. They came last summer to attend Nix's wedding. And Heinrich visits Austria about every four years.

"I enjoy every day here," Heinrich said. "I have had a lot of fun running the restaurant for more than 20 years."

For the fourth straight year, Michael's celebrated Austrian Independence Day, marking Oct. 26, 1955, when the country declared independence from its post-World War II occupiers: the U.S., France, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

In addition to Wiener Schnitzel, the buffet served a marinated roast beef in a sour gravy called Sauerbraten, a roasted pork called Schweinebraten, an egg noodle called Spatzle, red cabbage and sauerkraut, among other items.

It also had served Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian wine.

"In Austrian cooking, we use a lot of caraway seeds," Heinrich said. "That's our specialty. It's in everything."

Heinrich was trained at a culinary school in Vienna. But he also borrows from old family recipes.

On the Michael's menu is a main entree called Lorle Oma's Hussaren Braten.

The beef brisket in onion-cream gravy and served with red cabbage is an old family recipe — Lorle Oma is Heinrich's grandma, and the recipe was passed down to his mother then his sister-in-law.

But to get the recipe four years ago during a trip to Austria, Heinrich had to prod his sister-in-law who served as guardian of the recipe.

After numerous requests, she relented.

"Now I am the guardian of the recipe here in America, and she is the guardian of the recipe in Austria," Heinrich joked.

During the event, the Vienna Boys band played polka music. Some people dressed up, including Heinrich in a lederhosen and Nix in a dirndl — both traditional Austrian clothing.

"I love wearing it," Nix said. "Everybody looks good in a dirndl. But you never get a chance to wear a dirndl in real life. But when you put one on like today, you can't help but look beautiful."

It was just another touch of bringing Austrian culture to Central Minnesota.

"Austria is great — I feel like a fat American by comparison," said Nix, who has visited relatives in Austria multiple times. "There's a depth and a simplicity to the Austrian culture. Mozart is Austrian, that's what I think of for the Austrian culture."