Die Burgermacher: Gourmet Enough for a Knife and Fork
Barbara Kunze and co-proprietor Jan Bahr serve inspired and delectable two-fisted burgers for a discerning palate
One problem facing newcomers to any city is finding a set of restaurants you enjoy. You may have to try four or more Chinese places before you settle on one that merits your becoming a regular. The same goes for pizza, sushi and the local Beisl.
In the case of hamburgers, the search is a short one. It’s Die Burgermacher, the always-packed eatery on Burggasse in the 7th District. The street name is only coincidence, claims Barbara Kunze, co-proprietor with boyfriend Jan Bahr. Still, it can’t hurt.
From the horse’s mouth
Lately, the talk has been about the five-year-old restaurant’s horsemeat burger, one of this month’s specialties.
"The first time it was called Pferdeburger on the menu and people seemed a little scared," said Kunze. Apparently there were more than a few times where a father had to order "the last one on the menu" to avoid upsetting his daughter.
"Now we call it the ZwiebelrosSbraten burger," she laughed, a play on the Austrian dish, Zwiebelrostbraten (Roast beef with caramelised onions) and Ross, the traditional word for a noble horse, or steed.
I overhear a neighbouring customer explain to her friend that she isn’t avoiding the controversial item "on ethical grounds or anything", as the friend takes a big bite of his Ross-burger. I must admit that I didn’t want to order it at first either, after an unfortunate encounter sometime back with a Leberkäse vom Pferd at a Würstelstand. But when I bit into the horsemeat burger at Die Burgermacher, topped with red onion chutney, green pepper, lettuce and tomato, my worries dissolved. Bring on more Seabiscuit!
With just eight tables, Die Burgermacher is tiny, but nearly always full. If you don’t arrive the minute they open or make a reservation, you’ll find yourself nursing a drink at the small bar area, or just plain waiting. And they do wait.
I spot a youngish couple eyeing the restaurant’s cookbook, which Kunze and Bahr put together a few years ago as a way to share almost every secret. Das Burger-Kochbuch: So geht’s, so schmeckt’s! will tell you how to make homemade ketchup, but it won’t tell you about pink or blue potatoes, a fan favourite that will make a re-appearance in autumn. These particular tubers are all but ignored by the industry because of variations in size that make them especially tedious to peel. And finding the right ones isn’t a secret Kunze is ready to share quite yet.
A better burger
Burger culture is something of a novelty in Vienna, although it has been elevated to haute cuisine in Berlin and Paris.
"When I started, it was not big at all. Then it was just McDonalds, Burger King and some Irish bars," Kunze said. "Austria is always a few years behind."
Kunze, an Austrian, and Bahr, a German, met at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Northern Italy. Students at the "slow food" school were asked to make a dish from their home lands. When the American students declined to make hamburgers – presumably thinking them unworthy – Kunze and Bahr tried their hands at one, a picture of which hangs inside the restaurant. This got them thinking what an all-burger restaurant might look like.
"We thought, how would the menu look if you skipped all that fast food shit?" Kunze said.
That menu features three standards, Classic, Heavy Meat and Mexican, two specialty burgers that rotate out month-to-month (February features the ZwiebelrosSbraten and Gorgonzola burgers) and two non-meat varieties (Smoked Tofu and Halloumi). Each costs between €8 and €10.
The pair come up with their creations through an instinct for which flavours go naturally together and by travelling: Recent trips through Italy, Asia and South America have informed favourites like the Spring Fever Beef Burger (returning in April) with its cream cheese, garlic pesto, mustard, lettuce and tomato.
One quirk among the burger-eaters here is the way everyone seems to dive right in with a fork and knife, cutting the sandwich apart like a T-bone steak, a practice encouraged by the placement of a cutlery container on each table – clearly un-American! Although Europeans seem to realise this: I once came across an English book that said all Americans eat hamburgers with two hands and do not set it down until completed.
This too is a misconception. Though I nearly finished my horse burger in one go, I did set it down twice(!) to grab more fries and beer. By the third pickup, the burger’s structural integrity had collapsed (think club sandwich without the toothpick), and I gratefully finished the rest with a fork. ÷
7., Burggasse 12,
Tue. – Fri., 17:30 – 22:30, Sat., 12:30 – 22:30
0699 11 58 95 99