Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NYC Restaurant Review: Cafe Steinhof, Austrian comfort food - Food At Your Fingertips

I once knew an Austrian scientist who has since moved on to bigger and better things. Back when we used to hang out drinking together, he told me of a wonderful Austrian restaurant he had found right in my own neighborhood in Brooklyn. Thus I was introduced to the "Austrian comfort food" of Cafe Steinhof by someone who knew Austrian food from birth.

Cafe Steinhof (422 Seventh Ave. at 14th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn) offers quite satisfying food from Vienna, a city that once was compared with Paris for its sophistication. But Austrian food isn't really all that sophisticated, which is why it lends itself well to "comfort food." Austrian food strikes me as really good, satisfying "peasant" cuisine. The Chicken with Paprika and the standard Wiener Schnitzel are very good. Well-prepared and tasty. Somewhat more exciting and just as good is the Kielbasa with goulash sauce, a reminder of Austria's former existence as the dominant partner in the unwieldy Austro-Hungarian Empire. And naturally they have the ultimate in Austrian comfort food, cheese spaetzle, a somewhat over-done pasta dish not so unlike American mac-and-cheese. I am not huge fan of spaetzle, so I'd give it a miss, but if my Austrian friend approved, it must be good spaetzle...and if you like mac and cheese this will be wonderful for you.

Cafe Steinhof also offers a simpler late menu (until 1 AM) to accompany a very nice selection of beers and wines. Drinks include the traditional Slivovitz, the Austrian equivalent of Italy's Grappa and just about as vile. There is also Obstler (pear and apple brandy) that can be mixed with the Austrian Gaffel Kolch beer to make a drink Cafe Steinhof dubs a "U-Boat." Several Austrian beers are on tap.

I have to say that one time I went to Cafe Steinhoff right after a trip to Germany and I was disappointed. It isn't like being in the old country. BUT, if you are here in NYC it is about as close as you can get.

Comforting food in a homey, diner-like setting...but sometimes Cafe Steinhof can surprise you. Once we were served by a very tall and masculine crossdresser who we naturally nicknamed "Hedwig." The service was excellent, if a bit distracting to our daughter who, once "Hedwig" had taken our order with great charm and efficiency and left, leaned over to us and whispered, "did you notice that was a man!"

Personally I like having my comfort food, Austrian or otherwise, come with a bit of a quirk to it. Either way, served by "Hedwig" or more conventionally, Cafe Steinhoff is well worth a trip to the Slope.

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