I actually had the pleasure of visiting Austria back in my high school days. While I enjoyed a fun couple of weeks traveling through towns like like Salzburg and Innsbruck, lets just say I wasn’t quite a food aficionado. Heck back then, the heights of culinary joy meant splurging at McDonalds. Looking back now, eating a Big Mac and fries while sitting just yards from Mozart’s home wasn’t the cultural peak of my life.
To be quite frank even if I had ventured beyond fast food back then, I am not sure I would have known where to start or what to order. Fast forward to today, some 15 years later, and I’m still not sure I know what Austrian cuisine truly is. That is something I had wanted to rectify after reading countless praises of Vienna Bistro located in downtown SLC. All I was waiting for was a drop in temperatures, for what little I did know about the cuisine, it seemed better suited to our colder months.
Late January then saw our first visit to Vienna Bistro, and my introduction proper to Austrian foods (note: Vienna Bistro offers more than just Austrian fare. Swiss, German and Hungarian are thrown into the mix for a more mixed European flavour). I was particularly excited to try Vienna Bistro as several articles on the restaurant’s owner/head chef Frody Volgger went into depth about his passion for ingredients and cooking. House cured meats, home made sausage, and hand-made pate were just some of the menu items that seemed to reflect the intentions of a serious chef.
On the evening in question, we managed to luck out with parking right outside the restaurant on Main Street. What with the nightmare that is downtown SLC parking, and the ongoing downtown construction, parking is a consideration if you are driving to this restaurant.
Once off the cold streets and inside, we were greeted and seated next to the large windows looking out onto Main Street. I was a little concerned the table would be freezing cold as it was so close to the door and window, but was happily surprised to find it more than comfortable. Once settled, we both ordered a glass of wine (Zantho St. Laurent @ $8.00 and Dos Cardos Malbec @$6.00) and surveyed the restaurant.
The restaurant space seemed bereft of diners for a Saturday night, and a little small too. It was only later into our meal, as throngs of people departed, that we discovered an entirely separate dining area, to the back of the restaurant, shrouded behind a curtain. Our waitress informed me that was for larger groups. Right behind our table was a deli counter, where some of the restaurants homemade items were available for purchase. The restaurant space itself was largely unremarkable, unobtrusive would be a nicer phrase.
After a briefing on the nights specials and a tour of the menu, we started by sharing an order of the Farmer’s Plate ($11.50):
The menu describes this as “an assortment of house-made meats and imported cheeses”. That really fails to do justice to the amount of obvious care the Chef puts into his house made meats. I was happy to find that all the selections were excellent, not a hint of some supermarket deli-meat being passed off as an appetizer. Wendi enjoyed the accompanying cheese and olives too.
Another app we shared was the Smoked Trout ($9.50):
A perfectly smoked Utah trout garnished with capers, onions and lemon. Nothing too fancy, but smoke something and I’m hooked. If it’s fish, all the better. Not a morsel was left by the time we had finished with it.
For her entree Wendi had the verbally-taxing (well for me at least) Käsespäzle ($16.25):
Dense gnocchi-like homemade pasta is covered with melted gruyere, appenzeller and raclette cheeses. It is then baked and served with a selection of salads. Wendi noted that the salads were a perfect compliment to the rich pasta dish. The salads consisted of a sauerkraut-like cold cabbage with vinegar, a carrot salad, and an apple salad. Wendi seemed very happy with her choice, but considering it was a cheese fest, I passed on giving her dish a try.
After our waitress spoke so lovingly about the nights special, Berkshire short ribs ($25), I had to give them a go:
The Japanese refer to this rare breed of English pork as Kurobuta; its superior marbling is effectively for pork what Kobe is to beef. Our waitress did not lead me astray either. The exterior had a smoky peppery finish, the inside was oh-so juicy and loaded with bags of fatty flavour. This was a really serious piece of meat, and by the time I had pried every last chunk of fat and meat away, only bones remained.
The sides of beans, mash, and sauerkraut were decent enough. The sauerkraut was actually rather quite tasty. It actually inspired me to google how to make a proper sauerkraut at home. Without going into too much depth, I won’t be fermenting my own cabbage for 6 weeks anytime soon. So, chances, are I will be back to buy some from Vienna Bistro in the not too distant future!
It was around this time that Chef Volgger made an appearance at our table (as he was doing at all the tables I should note). He was very keen to talk about the short ribs, and clearly genuinely excited about his produce and dishes. He chatted for a while and we learned more about the Berkshire breed (only five active farms in the US apparently). It was an enjoyable personal touch to the meal. Unlike some past experiences elsewhere, it didn’t interfere with the quality of the meal.
The rest of service was also good, our waitress checked in regularly and offered her advice on our selections. Which leads us nicely into dessert, recommend by our waitress, we opted for the Linzer Torte ($6.50):
This final plate continued the bold and robust nature of the meal. The distinctive torte was a heavy nut-based sweet with a fruity hint of preserves. It was very moist and despite our heavy meals, it disappeared quickly.
All in all I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this meal. For right or wrong I always have an idea in my mind of what a restaurant will feel like beforehand. Vienna Bistro surpassed what I had hoped for and provided a delicious evening. With ‘downtown rising’ not set to complete it’s initial phases for many years yet, lets hope this unique restaurant manages to survive through what must be tough times for downtown traders.
Whilst I didn’t have the most authentic of entrees on this visit, I enjoyed my meal enough to know that I will be back in the future. And items like Wienerschnitzel (veal cutlet breaded and pan seared) or Rahmschnitzel (pork loin, pan seared in a rich mushroom cream sauce) will certainly be in my sights the next time. And should I ever return to Austria, I guarantee you won’t be finding me in a McDonalds.
132 S Main St, Salt Lake City, UT 84101