If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I’m not a typical wannabe food critic. I’m trying to eat food from everywhere because I really like food, but this whole thing is also a social experiment of sorts (I’ll be weaseling my way into many kitchens over the next year or two), and it’s a good way to see whether New York City is really as awesome as Alicia Keys says it is. The food isn’t always the point–hell, sometimes I say barely anything about the food itself.
So it’s rare that I spend an entire post gushing about the awesomeness of a particular restaurant’s food. Cafe Katja deserves all of the obsessive praise that I can dish out.
Look, I have no particular love for Austrian food. Frankly, I know almost nothing about Austrian food. I had no expectations at all–I was just trying to cross another small European country off my list. Cafe Katja was the closest Austrian place I could find, so we ate there. It wasn’t supposed to be great.
But it was obscenely great. For starters, it’s a small, intimate, welcoming sort of place. My pal Ryan and I sat at the bar, and were served by a genuinely warm bartender who seemed to know absolutely everything about the entire menu, including the fine details of all of the Austrian and German beers on tap (mmm… Stiegl).
For our entrees, I felt obligated to order something Austrian and sausage-y, but I confessed to the bartender that I sometimes have a little bit of sausage anxiety. Sausage isn’t really my thing. The lovely bartender talked me into the emmentaler sausage ($14) anyway.
She’s my new hero. Somehow, she convinced me that the sausage would be “relatively light” because it was made from pork. That made no sense to me at all, but she was absolutely correct. It’s hard to describe exactly what makes an emmentaler cheese-stuffed sausage outrageously good, but this was probably the best sausage I’ve ever eaten. It was served with quark dumplings (imagine large, flat spatzle or slightly oversized gnocchi that have been thrown against a wall) and savoy cabbage in a very gentle cream sauce.
Let me bottom-line this: I hate cream sauce, and I rarely get excited about sausage. And this was still one of the best meals I’ve eaten in the last few months… and that’s saying something.
Everything else was equally ridiculous. My buddy Ryan ordered cheese spatzle ($14), which was better than any mac-and-cheese I’ve ever eaten (also a serious achievement). Wise
Ryan also ordered lame-sounding roasted carrots ($4), which turned out to have an absolutely magical charred sweetness to them; the cucumber potato salad ($3) was an amazing dill-filled treat that reminded me of my Ukrainian grandmother’s salads.
We stood outside the restaurant for just a moment after we paid our bill, and the owner came outside–in the middle of a Friday night dinner rush–to thank us for coming and ask us if we were from the neighborhood. Clearly, the man loves his restaurant… and so do I.
79 Orchard Street
Subway: Essex-Delancey (F, J, M, Z trains) or Grand (B, D trains)