Above/featured: “Beethovenhaus” Heuriger Mayer am Pfarrplatz. Pfarrplatz square, Heiligenstadt, in Vienna Döbling (19.)
It’s a nation-wide holiday on the 26th of May (2022): Ascension of Christ (Christi Himmelfahrt). On a bright and warm late-spring day, people are out and about, and very few shops are open.
I’m halfway through my month-long stay in Vienna, and today, I’m in the city’s 19th district, Döbling, where in his time Beethoven spent many summers resting, composing, and contemplating life with total hearing loss. I’ve spent the morning wandering through the Heiligenstadt neighbourhood, including a visit to one of his summer residences that’s now a museum dedicated to Beethoven. Not far down the street is another Beethoven summer house that’s now a wine tavern or “Heuriger”. A hanging bunch of pine branches at the front door means this tavern is open for service, with food and their own wine on offer.
The Austrian capital city is home to the world’s largest “urban vineyard” and is the world’s only capital city producing wine within its city limits. There are some 600 wine producers; 400 individual vineyards; over 7 million square metres (75 million square feet) of cultivation space producing both white and red wines in a 80/20 split, respectively; and an average annual yield of 2 million litres or over 2.5 million bottles of wine. Most of the wine is sold for immediate consumption at wine shops and grocery stores, and at the city’s many wine taverns.
Inside the front entrance is an open courtyard decorated by braids of green vine leaves. 1pm on a holiday is going to be busy, and most tables in shade in the outdoor patio are occupied. I don’t intend to linger; so, I take an open spot under sun. A waiter comes by and asks if there’s something I’d like to drink. I request an “Achtel” (“eighth”, 125mL) of Mayer’s own 2021 Grüner Veltliner, and ask whether’s a buffet today. The food counters are around the corner, he replies, handing me a slip of paper with my assigned-table number. I can pay for the food upon ordering at the counter, or I can pay when I’m done. Inside, there’s the unmistakable glow and refrigerated chill of the food counters. There are salads of the German/Austrian kind (no much of the green leafy kind, though); pickles and Sauerkraut; fatty, meaty, cheesy spreads for bread; the “usual suspects” including pan-fried potatoes, roast-pork and -chicken, sausage, blood sausage; cold cuts and cheeses; and naturally, a dessert display.
I’m not gonna eat too much or fill up on carbs on this very warm afternoon. Keeping it simple, I’ve a tomato and onion salad, to go with a pork Bratwurst, a meat patty (Faschierte Laibchen/Frikadellen), and a big juicy slice of caraway-roasted pork (Kummelbraten). Staff behind the counter ask if I want “Saft” (gravy/juices) with the meat choices. “Ja, bitte!”
The tomato and onion mix is a little sweet and sour. This along with the smooth yet sharpness of the wine provide a lighter taste balance to the “heavier” meat portions. The Bratwurst and meat patty are very good, but the Kummelbraten. Oh, the Kummelbraten. The outside is crunchy-chewy (knackig), and the pork is juicy (saftig) and delicious (gewürzt). It’s a style of old-fashioned cooking my parents would have recognized and enjoyed.
The tavern provides a cozy setting. People are shuttling between their tables and the food counters, and there’s a happy murmur to the conversations around me. The young and old fill up tables in both front- and back-garden seating areas. In my view, it’s a pricey meal for one person; yet, I was tempted by the Cremeschnitte on display. However, I also think sharing a variety of food and splitting a bottle of their white vine among a group of people would be a fun spread for an afternoon or evening.
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