The Austro-Hungry

When real estate developer George Merrick planned his "City Beautiful," Coral Gables, he was envisioning an upper-class enclave, architectural homogeneity, solidarity. Houses would present a unified front: white stucco, wrought iron, tejas, balconies. Landscaped lawns would prevail.

He succeeded. Coral Gables became an ideal community -- quiet, attractive, and conservative. And as time went on, efforts (some of them excessive) were made to keep it this way. Want to paint your house a different color? Check with the city first. Last year, officials even attempted to ban New Times's distribution boxes from the streets because the bright-red color didn't jibe with the city fathers' pallid dreams.

How could such uniformity support any ethnic diversity, even the culinary kind? Yet odd as it seems, behind the often predictable doors and windows of Miracle Mile and the Coral Gables business district, 26 different types of cuisines are being served. You can find Irish, Brazilian, Cuban, Greek, Italian, and French -- to name more than a few -- all within several blocks of each other. Now you can also enjoy wonderful Austrian food at Mozart Stube, the Gables's 27th addition to the ethnic dining scene.

Stube, which translates loosely into "a place to relax," is an appropriate name for this 60-seat dining room. Located in the space Didier's restaurant used to occupy, the three-month-old Mozart Stube is warm and unpretentious, qualities that upscale Gables restaurants sometimes lack. My companions and I liked this dining room immediately. Its wood-paneled walls and wooden benches -- handmade by owner-chef Harald Neuweg -- and its accents of alpine blues and greens are refreshing, particularly in a community where the buildings are dominated by Spanish-style architecture.

The interior design was not the only pleasing element of our recent Friday evening meal. From the basket of rye bread, accompanied by a traditional spiced butter, to the enormous souffle that finished our meal, every aspect of our experience spoke of an Austria I'd enjoy visiting again.

Good Austrian food is not -- pun intended -- to be taken lightly. As a result of Vienna's cosmopolitan outlook, the cuisine has drawn its influences from varied European sources, including Spain, Italy, and Holland. But it's the Hungarian/Germanic contributions and the regional dishes of the mountain provinces and small towns -- bread dumplings, smoked meats, and sausages -- that most of us recognize as typical Austrian fare. Which means that even at its Mozart Stube best, you can anticipate a robust meal.

In Miami, Bavarian cuisines (Austrian, German, and Hungarian) have not been well-represented. Most of those restaurants that do serve schnitzel and wurst do it poorly. Mozart Stube is the exception that I wish would become the rule. The wiener schnitzel here -- described on the menu as "the real McCoy," a phrase that our Eastern European waiter didn't understand -- was perfectly cooked. The crumb coating, crisp and brown, didn't cling inappropriately to the juicy meat (you should be able to insert a knife between the two). The serving size was also impressive. A butterfly-shaped cut of scalloped, pounded veal edged over the plate, oversized like a product of Lewis Carroll's imagination. An assortment of salads, including cucumbers marinated in vinegar and room-temperature potatoes dressed lightly with vinegar and bacon, accompanied the meat. Harald Neuweg (who trained at Austria's culinary institute Hotel Austria) loves this dish, and it shows.

The former owner of Old Vienna, Cafe Vienna, and Harald's offers three different schnitzel varieties on the menu; they include one topped with mushroom sauce and another sauteed with bacon, mushrooms, and onions. He has also instituted "wiener schnitzel Sunday," a four-course prix-fixe menu featuring the obvious. Eating schnitzel -- what Neuweg calls "a Sunday afternoon Austrian tradition" -- beats the American one of watching football. And the half-liters of Dinkel Acker beer are infinitely better than, say, Bud.

Veal is hardly the only item on the menu. But you won't find much besides meat. I tried the main-course Austrian pasta dish of eiernockerl, noodle-like dumplings so small they usually float in soup, and even these came flecked with bacon. They had also been endowed with butter and scrambled with eggs, an absolutely delicious combination highly reminiscent of that all-time favorite American breakfast: bacon and eggs. The addition of the tiny nuggets of pasta simply elevated it (as well as my cholesterol count) to a heartier status. The pasta came with a beautiful bibb lettuce salad that had been dressed with a sharp vinaigrette, a fresh, welcome contrast that actually enabled me to eat more of the rich noodles than I would have otherwise.

We deliberately ordered more meat in the form of the bauernschmaus, a flavorful combination of smoked ham, roast pork, and bratwurst. The thick-sliced ham was smoky rather than salty, a definite plus, and the pork was meaty and tender. Still, the highlight of the plate was the succulent bratwurst. A "frying" sausage, bratwurst should be browned before it's served, and Mozart Stube's version was a deep mahogany color. The pork sausage was slightly spicy, not overwhelmingly so, and the dominating flavors of caraway, marjoram, and nutmeg blended nicely with the meat. A rich brown gravy added moistness, and a subtle sauerkraut, tangy and soft, supported the meats from underneath. Knodel, a bread dumpling that's most often served with roast pork and sauerkraut, as it was here, covered the entire entree. But this delicacy wasn't as heavy as it looked -- in fact, it was among the lightest I've tasted. Do I need to add, however, that altogether this was a very filling meal?

It was all a strong reminder of the Austrian food I'd tasted in Europe.Perhaps we shouldn't have started with the appetizers here, given the quantity of the portions. But my husband wanted to try the pancake soup, a savory beef broth garnished with delicate, shredded pancakes resembling French crepes. And I couldn't resist the garnierter wurstsalat, a salad of finely shredded bologna-like knockwurst and dilled gherkins, mixed with an herb mayonnaise. I first tried this popular Bavarian dish after a twenty-hour train ride, during which, having run out of money, I ate nothing but stale bread and melon. Maybe it was the invigorating change of air -- from the dry, dusty atmosphere of Brendisi, Italy to the cool oxygen of Innsbruck, Austria -- that made the wurstsalat so satisfying. Whatever the reason, I hadn't had that pleasure duplicated until my dinner at Mozart Stube.

And I'm sure, given the filled-to-bursting business of our bellies, that we could have survived without dessert. But we wouldn't have been happy. The mere mention of Salzburger Nockel, a souffle made of egg whites that takes twenty minutes to prepare, was enough to make me forget all about the eggs I had already eaten during the meal, and immediately crave more. The recipe is made for two, so you'll have to convince a partner to order -- I had no trouble there, of course. I was even looking forward to fighting over the last custardy bits. But the dessert arrived in two separate casseroles, dashing that dream, and also the dream -- fantasy, really -- of swallowing every bite. We're not talking little ramekins here -- each souffle was absolutely immense. Puffed and crusty, topped with powdered sugar, the silky souffle resembled the very mountains I had been missing in this flat city. Just as Mozart Stube now supplies what had been missing in the Gables.


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