Quixotic Eating Binge
A Culinary Journey Into the Lost Age of Chivalry
My mother’s birthday came just after the start of term, and as I had a poor record where presents were concerned, she wasn’t surprised when I asked her out for lunch. I selected the Burgherren restaurant, stirring dreams of a mixed grill or a juicy chop in the hall of knights.
So on a Saturday, three generations of "Wurz girls," my mother, my grandmother and I, met at the inconspicuous restaurant next to St. Andrä-Wördern’s train station near Greifenstein, about a 20-minute ride from Vienna.
Entering the heavy door, we were immediately swept off into the world of chivalry, with lords and ladies, castles and armor. Passing the bar with its wrought- iron castle gate, we nestled into a round, dark wooden table next to portrait of 16th Century Lower Austrian Count Freiherr von Turn und zum Kreuz. Fine company indeed.
The dark green curtains with golden-yellow flowers perfectly blended with the cushions and the wrought-iron lamps under red-orange shades illuminated the walls, decorated with antlers, swords, sabers, and parts of armor, and old engravings of the town. Amid the elegance and warmth, silver candelabras added to the gallant setting.
An old rotary phone – a somewhat later era of antiquity – with the hand set cradled on a forked holder sat perched on top of the espresso machine as the centuries collapsed in on each other amid the timeless courtesies of fine dining. The lady of the house approached with the menus as we ordered apple Spritzers and red wine.
There were few choices for vegetarians – knights and country folk alike seem inseparable from a diet of meats and sausages — so I had time to learn more about the history of the Gasthaus. The Burgherrenrestaurant, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in early February, was named after five lords who administered the region of St. Andrä-Wördern in the 16th Century. The first restaurant at this location opened more than a century ago, and the names of the dishes – like Kettenhemd, Burgfried, Burgjungfrau and Knappenfestmahl – honored (and spoofed) the historic character.
After a few minutes, a waitress came to our table, and we ordered: I got a Schwursteingemüseteller, consisting of vegetables with potato pancakes accompanied with two fried eggs; my mother ordered Kotelett Wördern, a chop with roast potatoes and cranberries, and my grandmother a perch fillet with a mixed salad.
While waiting for the food, I went off in search of the washrooms. Near the cellar stairs, an open door led to the hall of knights, where someone was having a birthday party. For special occasions, you can order a Knights’ Feast, a Ritteressen, which is a vast platter of pig’s neck and knuckles, chicken filets, spare ribs, bacon and cabbage, for 10 or more, for €18,50 a head.
Past a bowling alley(!), I went on downstairs where the powder rooms were decorated with dishes of dried flowers and mirrors provided a vanity table full of liquid soaps, deodorants, perfumes, hand creams and body lotions. After washing my hands with honey cream soap, I used a gentle, flowery perfume, and rejoined my companions refreshed, ready for the feast.
My petite grandmother was faced with three fillets and at least a kilogram of roasted potatoes towering on her plate next to a huge bowl of mixed salad.
"So much food," she sighed, shaking her head – although she didn’t really look all that unhappy. In fact, it took only the first bite before she and my mother were happily devouring the food, to murmurs of, "This sauce tartar is delicious! Definitely homemade!" and "This chop is so delicate."
While enjoying my vegetables I, on the other hand, was already thinking about dessert.
The others claimed they were full and wanted to get the rest of the food wrapped to take home. Still they were willing to be persuaded, and I ordered the Sweet Torture (Süße Folter), a chocolate ring cake (Gugelhupf) with vanilla sauce and ice cream for myself.
With dessert, my mother opened her gift – a white heart-shaped clay box with a little angel sprawled on the lid and half a kilogram of her favorite Eight Treasure Tea (Acht Schätze Tee) -- in a glow of pleasure blending with the sauce and ice cream melted smoothly on my tongue. The Sacher Torte was also a hit, just the right texture with the thick chocolate coating holding the moisture in the layers of devils-food-like cake and apricot filling.
The bill was a pleasant surprise: With prices for a meal, including wine and desert, between €15 and €20, the Burgherrenrestaurant is a courtier’s feast on a shop keepers budget.
Burgherrenrestaurant Familie Zeiner
3423 St. Andrä-Wördern
Open Daily 10:00 to 22:00 except Aug.
Kitchen till 21:00
S-Bahn 40 from Franz Josefs Bahnhof