Chef Eduard (Edi) Frauneder is all about the gemütlichkeit.
That’s Austrian for having a cozy and convivial aura. And Frauneder and his chef-partner Wolfgang (the Wolf) Ban imbued their Alphabet City Austrian eatery with it, when they opened Edi & the Wolf just over a year ago.
Riffing on the heurigen, or wine taverns, of their native Austrian, the two also brought gemütlichkeit to the restaurant’s homey and inviting menu, which spotlights both classic dishes and elevated takes on traditional fare.
“Basically, it’s homemade, simple and produced in-house,” says Frauneder of the foods heurigen offer and the restaurant promotes. These little wine taverns often have their own provisions — live poultry, garden vegetables — on site.
Although Frauneder isn’t raising chickens behind his storefront, he does emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients and handcrafts them into home-style fare. Like a true Austrian chef, he spends time curing, smoking, pickling and preserving.
Among the “straight-up classics” is traditional (pork or veal) Wiener schnitzel, which Frauneder calls “the workhorse of Viennese and Austrian cuisine.” And there are other basic interpretations of, say, pickled veggies or Liptauer spread. Seasoned with paprika and pumpkin seed oil, the farmhouse cheese spread “is something you get in every heuriger in Austria,” Frauneder says.
But then the chef can get a bit kooky — in a good way — with dishes like spätzle ($17). These egg noodle dumplings are generally boiled, pan-fried in butter and served as a starchy side dish. But Frauneder does “a lighter, more modern” presentation and offers his as a “shared plate.” Sauced with tasty dill, cheese and crème fraîche — and also tossed with a winter’s mix of wild mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and fried onions during our visit — his pillowy dumplings were an Austro-gourmet twist on mac ‘n’ cheese.
Frauneder knows precisely when he needs to waltz around a bit with his cuisine. Farm eggs are traditional peasant fare, and are often cooked in a pan with potatoes and leftover vegetables until the eggs coagulate. However, if served this way, “people would complain the egg is overcooked, completely dry and, from a visual standpoint, not presentable,” Frauneder says.
So the chef offers the more palatable slow-poached farm eggs ($16), which he recently served with sautéed spinach, leeks, pork belly, mushrooms, hollandaise and croutons.
Frauneder designed Edi & the Wolf’s menu to dispel common misconceptions about Austrian cuisine, he says.
“It’s not only meat and potatoes. It doesn’t have to be heavy. It can be beautifully executed and approachable.”
And that’s what our group of five discovered during our recent gathering. Friends Photographer Tom* and Matt joined The Husband, my son The Connoisseur and me for a fun and festive evening at Edi & the Wolf.
We began our meal with Frauneder’s pork belly ($11), which the chef house-cures in a mixture of beer, caraway, garlic, sugar and salt. The smoky, thin cut meat was slightly upstaged by the mind-blowing horseradish mustard that accompanied it.
Palate-cleansing green salad ($11) featured a toss of three simply dressed greens —mache, arugula, upland cress — dotted with chestnuts, Bucheron goat cheese and sweet figs.
And a plate of spätzle was quickly and quietly consumed — mostly by The Connoisseur – before we moved onto entrées.
The (carnivorous) Connoisseur selected classic shell steak ($24), a most tender cut plated with leek purée, fingerling potatoes and crispy fried kale.
The Husband opted for duck two ways ($24), which will soon exit the menu when Frauneder introduces his spring offerings. The easily sliceable breast and fall-off-the bone confit leg appeared with a sweet-savory mix of black trumpet mushrooms, apples and Brussels sprouts and a creamy celery root purée.
Frauneder also offers specials “to keep the kitchen on its toes.” And Matt ordered the evening’s feature — satisfying beef short ribs ($15) with fried Brussels sprouts, onions and puréed parsnips.
Photographer Tom and I went straight-up Austrian with pork and veal schnitzel ($21) respectively. The impossibly thin, medium-breaded cutlet was indeed notable, but was made all the better by its sides — mustardy potato salad, sour cream-coated cucumbers and house-made lingonberry jam.
Dessert (of which Frauneder offers only three) was a bit of a blur, as we were once again racing to make a curtain call.
I didn’t get to experience the “poor man’s dessert,” palatschinken ($8), a crepe filled with berry jam and topped with fresh vanilla whipped cream. But a hasty bite of dense chocolate cake with orange compote ($9) — along with that gemütlichkeit vibe — made me wish I had longer to linger at Edi & the Wolf.
*A special thanks to Tom O’Connor for graciously shooting many of the photographs for my series on Edi & the Wolf.
Edi & the Wolf
102 Avenue C
New York, New York 10009