The morning news goes down easier with a side of chocolate cake, I thought while reading the paper at a Viennese coffeehouse last week.
I was in Austria visiting family, but the goal of eating like a Habsburg princess wasn’t far behind. If you’ll indulge me in some brief vacation reminiscences, I have a few observations.
While Maryland chefs are mad about ramps, the zesty wild garlic that announces spring’s arrival, Austrian chefs are even more passionate about ramsons, their European equivalent. I found ramson soup on the menu at almost every single restaurant I visited, and chopped ramsons garnishing many dishes.
Crab cakes are nowhere to be found, but Austrians do have an equally ubiquitous signature dish, on the menu everywhere from high-end restaurants to casual corner eateries: Wiener schnitzel. Traditionally, it’s a flattened, breaded veal cutlet, though many places offer it with pork or chicken.
Judging from the lunchtime crowds I encountered at the Palmenhaus cafe, formerly an imperial greenhouse, Austrians are eager to get back into restaurants after the pandemic, but take COVID-19 precautions seriously. Masks are mandatory inside and Viennese restaurants require proof of vaccination or recent recovery from all diners. Residents are able to present their vaccination status on a smartphone app — an innovation I wish we had here in Baltimore. My vaccination card got seriously dog-eared after so many times bringing it in and out of my wallet.
Service takes a refreshingly relaxed approach; most restaurants seem to expect you to sit around and linger for hours, whether it’s to people-watch outside a cafe or as you pore over a newspaper. Servers are paid a living wage and don’t rely on tips, but a gratuity of about 10% is customary at local restaurants.
Are you planning to travel this year? Where will you go, and, more importantly, what will you eat? Email me at email@example.com
Easton’s Bas Rouge ups its pastry offerings
Vienna whetted my appetite for travel after two years of being grounded. Fortunately, Maryland offers plenty of places where I can get my fix for international cuisine.
One is Bas Rouge, a Viennese-style restaurant in Easton.
The restaurant, the flagship for Easton’s Bluepoint Hospitality, recently snagged a new, James Beard award-nominated pastry chef and “A Good Bake” author, Melissa Weller.
It’s a bold move for a woman with a fascinating resume. Weller was a chemical engineer before becoming a chef, is one of New York’s “best bagel bakers,” according to The New York Times, and was previously chef and partner at High Street on Hudson and head baker at Per Se. She also studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York.
At a time when many of her peers are exiting the restaurant industry, Weller, who just turned 50, said the pandemic prompted her to consider ways to make her career feel more sustainable. “When you’re a chef, the expectation is 12 hours on your feet every day.”
Weller thinks she’s found the way forward in Easton and is “enjoying working for somebody else.”
“I have health care insurance. Healthcare insurance in the restaurant industry is hard to find. And I have a 401(k). Those things really matter to me at this point.”
And, after years living in Brooklyn, Weller can’t wait to relocate to the Eastern Shore with her middle school-aged son. “I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, but my city kid is afraid of fireflies. I’m determined that he will find happiness outside of New York City.”
After making an imprint at Bas Rouge, Weller will also help shape the offerings at Bluepoint’s other properties, including Bonheur, its pie and ice cream shop, as well as a new crepe restaurant set to open this summer.
One of the first things she’ll get started on at Bas Rouge: “I’m going to have a Viennese cake trolley.”
Bring on the Sacher torte.
More pizza, and eggrolls
I continue to receive reader recommendations about the best pizza in Baltimore.
Gail Fishman recommends Noona’s for the “pillowy crust, delicious fillings.”
Writes Kevin M. Regert: “The best pizza I’ve had is at Maria’s of Carney, owned by the former owner of Lapore’s in Baltimore City, which is now closed and a place that I loved growing up.”
“I’m from Chicago and even though my 95-year-old father violently disagrees with me, no one’s pizza has yet to come even close to Gino’s pizza in Chicago,” writes Allyn Simon.
Simon is also seeking recommendations for a good eggroll. “Someone who worked at Alonso’s and/or Loco Hombre had a grandfather who made the most delicious and amazing eggrolls.” Since then, nothing compares.