Old Times at Drei Hacken
Grießnockerlsuppe, Tafelspitzsulz mit Zwiebelringen and Mohr im Hemd; old Beisl charm, untarnished by the pressure’s of commercialism and so pungent Johann Nestroy could not resist
As we headed for Zu den 3 Hacken at Singerstrasse 28 in Vienna’s 1st District, all we were looking for was the cosy atmosphere of an old Viennese Beisl, its traditional cuisine, and its low key comfort. No one had mentioned that it came with legends. Embarrassing to admit, as my literary dining companion Ms. Parker and I are both writers. But there you have it.
In fact, as it turned out, the 3 Hacken is not only one of the oldest restaurants in Vienna, but was the favorite haunt of the crème de la crème of Vienna’s Biedermeier Bohemian inner circle ("Bie-Bos," ancestors of the "Bo-Bos"). Composer Franz Schubert gathered his talented circle of friends – painters Leopold Kupelwieser and Moritz von Schwind as well as lyricist and actor Franz von Schober to share culinary pleasures. Playwright and actor Johann Nepomuk Nestroy mentioned the restaurant in one of his notorious songs – a preferred tool to spice up his plays with sarcastic word play – and thereby paved the way to the restaurant’s unfading fame.
Entering the Biedermeier world, we fell into its old Beisl charm; four small dimly lit rooms with vaulted low ceilings branched out to each side, scattered wooden tables covered in white linen, dark wooden chairs and worn benches – all hallmarks of Viennese Gemütlichkeit, which combines simplicity with the cosiness of wooden interior. Above the waist-high wall panelling were paintings and lithographs of street scenes interrupted by busts of (or course!) the Emperor Francis Joseph II and our old friend Franz Schubert, placed with highest respect, in the Schubertstüberl dedicated especially to his honor.
Seated in the midst of this engaging decor, I had to force myself to concentrate on the menu, which offered a wide range of Viennese classics - clear soup with semolina dumplings ("Grießnockerlsuppe"), a small soup pot with vegetables, noodles and beef ("Altwiener Suppentopf") or boiled beef in aspic with onions and pumpkin oil ("Tafelspitzsulz mit Zwiebelringen und Kürbiskernöl") as entrées and as main course, veal scallop bread crumbed and fried with potato-green-salad ("Kalbswienerschnitzel mit Erdäpfel-Vogerlsalat") or boiled rump with chive and apple sauce with horseradish and roast potatoes.
The wine flowed, and the appetiser arrived, we divided an Altwiener Suppentopf, and while we were spooning up the broth, the balance of spices a pleasure in itself, Ms. Parker and I tried to overhear the conversation of a French couple en face – a difficult mission, as it turned out, as the ear-piercing voice of a fellow Austrian in between lecturing on Viennese culture to his apparently German friends drowned out all other sounds. But, whoever thinks that the 3 Hacken is an overly touristy place is mistaken. Natives and tourists are joined – on separate tables – in animated chatter and Lucullian joy.
However, eventually, hunger won over distracting curiosity. Ms. Parker fell for duck with Bohemian dumplings, artfully embedded in a pool of red cabbage, whereas my Viennese self selected the traditional Hungarian-rooted goulash of veal with "Nockerl" (gnocchi-shaped pasta) joined in delicious harmony, both dishes in refreshing simplicity served on ordinary white plates.
"Paßt allas?" (meaning "paßt alles" in proper German/Austrian and "Is everything alright" in English), asked our waiter in unmistakable Viennese slang and a pleasing nonchalant attentiveness – a hallmark of Viennese Gemütlichkeit. Yes, everything was alright, the duck juicy, the veal tender, for us a time to surrender.
But what surrender is complete without the soothing taste of alcohol. The wine had, as it was our habit on these occasions, the agony of choice from well-assorted and entirely Austrian vineyard offerings; among these we found a Grüner Veltliner 2008 Federspiel, S. Donabaum, Spitz from the renowned Austrian wine region Wachau, Chardonnay 2008, a Cuvee Tridendron 2005, a Triebaumer, Gerhard Markowitsch, Göttlesbrunn or a St. Laurent Selection 2006, Netzl.
My culinary companion’s pick of the evening was a red Carnuntum 2008 for herself and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc Kaiseregg 2006 for me. Now, our pleasure was perfect. Or was it? There was something missing. The water. A little too much nonchalance... but, only for a moment. A moment late, a nonchalant, but charming apology, and the water was on our table.
Just as we had swallowed the last bit of our fine meal and gently slipped into the relaxed mode sipping our wine, Ms. Parker’s phone rang. She was called away on an important and yet unknown mission and we had to leave Schubert & Co.
But we agreed to come back for a luscious dessert – maybe a classic like "Mohr im Hemd" (Hazelnut soufflé with chocolate and whipped cream) or Apple Strudel with cream.
Zu den 3 Hacken
1., Singerstraße 28