Viener Fest Offers Authentic Taste of Austria

May 2, 2013

While reading the menu at Viener Fest, the new Austrian restaurant near Centennial Park, a continuous loop of the song “My Favorite Things” kept playing in my mind: “cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.”

The association bears evidence of two things: the pervasiveness of “The Sound of Music” and limited connections to Austrian food and culture. Nonetheless, from strudels and schnitzels to spaetzles and pretzels, Viener Fest strives to give you an authentic sampling of Austrian and German cuisine. They are quick to add “with an American accent”; the menu also holds a few non-Germanic dishes.

Viener Fest is the realized concept of manager and co-owner Jef Ellis. A well-traveled theater critic, he desired to re-create a beloved Viennese eatery in his hometown. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of a brick four-square on the corner of Poston and 28th Avenue North. Concrete porches on two sides of the home give al fresco diners a view of the park. Inside are pleasant dining rooms and a cozy bar. The walls are decorated with work of local artist Arthur Kirkby, which includes a serendipitous painting of our Schermerhorn Symphony Center — modeled after Vienna’s Musikverein.

Jawohl, the cuisine does laud the pairing of bier und wurst. At this writing, Ellis and staff are awaiting a variance from the beer board (because of proximity to the park). In the meantime, there is a full bar, with special emphasis on Austrian and German vintages and high-gravity beers. Try a glass of a Grüner Veltliner — a crisp, dry white wine popular in Austria for its food-friendliness. Medium-bodied, peppery with apricot notes, it partners well with many dishes on the menu.

A basket of warm pretzel bites makes a fun easy nosh to share. The soft, salt-crusted nuggets are especially good when dipped into the house mustard, which is sweet with a back kick of heat. Appetizer potato latkes are silver-dollar sized, flecked with chives, and golden fried. They reminded us of tater tots, if the tots had been flattened, and they were similarly enjoyable. The latkes come with little bowls of sour cream and applesauce. We wished that the applesauce wasn’t so pedestrian.

The wurst sampler has more oompah. (You can get full-sized plates, too. Check the menu’s Wurst Teller heading for those offerings. The sampler plate is a good place for starters.) Viener Fest sources their sausages from Batey Farms in Murfreesboro, and a grilled trio is represented on the plate: bratwurst, andouille and Swiss cheese-laced käsekrainer. Slices of marble rye, house mustard and sauerkraut round out the selection. All three were well received by our group, with special props to creamy peppered flavors of the käsekrainer and the pungent heat of the Cajun-derived wurst.

In its traditional, purist form, Wienerschnitzel is made with a veal fillet. Pounded thin, dipped in beaten eggs, coated in fine breadcrumbs and fried, it is simply finished with a lemon wedge. Beyond purist, escallops of pork, chicken and eggplant are available, and prepared likewise. The schnitzel becomes a neutral canvas for a number of sauces to embellish it. Rahmschnitzel is napped in a béchamel, recommended if you like the flavor of nutmeg that predominates the sauce. A mushroom-burgundy wine sauce distinguishes the Jagerschnitzel, although ours seemed weary. The Holstein schnitzel, awash in a lemon-caper sauce and topped with a sunnyside up egg, offers the most dimension in textures and tastes.

You may choose two side dishes to accompany your schnitzel. There are several options more intriguing than the customary kraut and warm potato salad. Braised red cabbage makes a respectable choice. We recommend the fresh cucumber salad, cloaked in a tangy sour cream dressing, and the spaetzle, noodle-like dumplings. Whether in soup or dressed up in a casserole, spaetzle could head your list of favorite things.

We preferred the spaetzle soup for its lighter broth, over the thicker, sauce-like garlic cream bisque. And, a bowl of spinach-flecked spaetzle baked with rahm sauce and swiss, topped with fried onion is like a sophisticated Germanic version of mac-cheese, offering the same kind of comfort.

Coffee and dessert are true Viennese dining pleasures. The city is known for its coffeehouses, central in the culture as a gathering place for relaxation and socializing. At the heart of each café is an array of smooth brews, elegant pastries and cakes. Viener Fest introduces both elements of that experience.

Since 1862, the name Julius Meinl has become synonymous in Vienna with premium coffee, regarded for its superb blends and roasts. Viener Fest serves Meinl in signature cups to accompany their specialty desserts. Baker Lila Parker creates Sacher tortes, multi-layered opera tortes, rich with coffee buttercream, Black Forest cakes and apple streudels exclusively for the restaurant. We enjoyed the Sacher’s dense chocolate crumb, highlighted with apricot, and the strudel, stuffed with apples and rum-macerated raisins in pastry. For an after-dinner treat, a cup of Meinl coffee and crisp apple streudel is indeed wunderbar.