Don't get us wrong, we love us some Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel. But while these Austrian hallmarks are understandably revered for a reason, they represent a heavier part of the cuisine that often overshadows the fresh, seasonal side.
"People think of Austrian food as really Germanic, and it's all, like, meat and potatoes," Austrian-born, Michelin-starred chef Eduard Frauneder says. He's the chef (and "Edi") of Austrian tavern Edi & the Wolf in New York's East Village and of the newly opened Freud.
There are a few major misconceptions people hold about Austrian food, Frauneder says. "Number one, they think it's heavy, and number two, they think it's German, and then that it's all meat, which I disagree with. This part of Europe lives in a very seasonal way."
Indeed, Freud is "very veggie heavy" and serves refined, seasonal fare that highlights the cuisine's versatility: Vegetables are centerpieces, not afterthoughts. For instance, crudo comes with pumpkin seeds, basil and sunchokes, and an elegant beet salad comes with a light and tangy whipped cheese, all topped with fresh herbs and accompanied by a crisp, rye-sourdough cracker.
The albacore crudo at Freud | Photo: Noah Fecks
Freud's version of spaetzle, a classic egg noodle dish found all over Austria, Germany and surrounding countries, is made with cauliflower. Covered with crunchy rye bread crumbs, it's a dynamic dish that feels more sophisticated than humble comfort food. The seasonal update for spring highlights some of our favorite green produce: blistered asparagus and spring peas. Made with Gruyère cheese, it's like a lighter, brighter mac and cheese, and it's perfect for spring (see the recipe).
Austrian chef Kurt Gutenbrunner has been highlighting the seasonal and refined side of traditional Austrian cooking for an impressive 16 years at his West Village staple and Michelin-starred Wallsé.
"You have to respect the classics, and you work the creativity in there," he says. While he doesn't mess with his popular Wiener schnitzel or rabbit spaetzle, Gutenbrunner regularly creates inventive dishes inspired by classic Austrian ingredients and cooking methods. Think "curing, smoking, braising. It's very solid, very honest cooking," Frauneder says.
"What I'm trying to do is to protect Austrian cuisine and also give a personal note to it," says Gutenbrunner, who also owns Blaue Gans, where he serves more casual Austrian food like sausage and sauerkraut; Café Sabarsky, a traditional Viennese coffeehouse inside the Neue Galerie; and the Upholstery Store wine bar.
Most recently, Gutenbrunner took white asparagus, which is popular in Europe, and built a salad with green asparagus, purple potatoes, béarnaise sauce and grapefruit.
"White asparagus is, like, $14 a pound," Gutenbrunner says, "but it's so much a part of the culture that we want to use it."
The salad is as elegant and seasonal as Wallsé's lobster, which is served with melon and fava beans. It's a dish in which the chef says he has "found a great balance," another critical mark of Austrian cooking. Heavier food, like the schnitzel or the fried chicken Gutenbrunner says is common in Austria, doesn't usually get served alone. It's typically accompanied by acidic capers or a light potato salad to brighten things up. Acidic, bright and crunchy garnishes almost always relieve fattier, heavier dishes. Case in point? Freud's springy spaetzle.
As for all of Gutenbrunner's restaurants, Edi & the Wolf, a handful others including Cafe Katja, and now Freud: There may be only a small number of Austrian restaurants in New York City, but they are real gems—and there's about to be one more. Frauneder will continue to expand the cuisine's profile, ever shining a light on its brighter side, at Schilling. The soon-to-open Financial District restaurant will highlight the cuisine's fresh notes in an entirely new way, integrating a Mediterranean bend with the chef's contemporary Austrian cooking. Count us in.
Gutenbrunner says, "It's a small country. I think for what we're doing as a small country, we've made a good impact here in New York."
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