All I know about Austria I learned from The Sound of Music and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Café Katja, an Austrian-themed bar, helped fill one gap by demonstrating that Austrian food and drink are both rich and excellent.
Café Katja is a tiny, autumnal bar on the Lower East Side with pseudo-rustic exposed brick and leather cushions so buttery you could eat them... like butter, or like emmentaler cheese on Austrian bread. It’s a little bit boring, but in a charming way — no yelling or gimmicks or gold-painted skulls, just sprays of bittersweet and handsome bartenders in turtlenecks. Katja specializes in intimacy: each beer is served in its special glass, each inspired cocktail comes with thoughtful and unexpected flourishes like plum-infused vodka, and everyone is very close, physically, to one another’s bodies. It’s a nice spot for a calm date, but you might be out of glück if you come with a party of three or more, as it’s nearly all stools and tables for zwei.
The Schneider Hefe-Weisse (at $7 the most expensive beer) had, as described on the menu, a “creamy medium body, velvety smooth hints of spice, rounded and pleasing palate,” and the Stadlmann pinot noir ($8.50) was also worth reordering. The drinks menu is trim, with five almost-precious cocktails (for instance the Edelweiss, $9, with Beefeater, pear marmalade, elderflower and lemon bitters), a dozen German and Austrian wines ($6.50 to $9 per glass) and more than a dozen German and Austrian beers. The draught beers come in three sizes (ranging from $3 to $7), which should appeal to both the curious and the lightweight.
But the food is what really stands out (whoops, this is a bar review). It’s cheap — most of it under $10 — the servings are generous and there’s much more than wurst, although the various wursts and wurst sandwiches are groß. We split the aufschnitt teller, a platter of cured meat, homemade pickles, bread and a savory cheese spread, which would have been enough for a small person’s dinner ($6). The warm, bendy pretzel ($2) soaked up the extra sauces from the cucumber, cured trout and lemon sour cream salad ($8), but the best dish was the spaetzle ($12), a smelly, sizzling bowl of blistery melting cheeses, caramelized onions and “egg pasta molded into firm, diminutive dumplings.” Delicious, and enough for two.
In the Goldilocks story, she breaks into the Bears’ house and uses all their things. Café Katja feels like Austrian Baby Bär’s favorite bar: cozy, warm and just rechte. How many German words can I einschließen in this rezension before it stops das Bilden sinn? Das viele? Oder jetzt? Oder was über jetzt?