Schnitzel is as basic to Austrian food as boob jobs are to Playboy Playmates. But like fake breasts (as we women tell ourselves), schnitzel can leave a lot to be desired. Usually the cutlets are dry as cardboard and taste of oily breadcrumbs. Fortunately, Austrian cuisine is made up of more than just fried cuts of meat—not that New Yorkers would know it. The city boasts only about a dozen restaurants focused on that country’s grub, all serving essentially the same menu of schnitzel, sausages, and stew.
Edi & the Wolf, a new Alphabet City eatery, offers these staples, too, and while the fare is generally impressive, the quirky décor and fun ambience are the real draws. Think farmhouse tavern (or heuriger, as the Viennese would say) meets crazy grandma’s attic. A long, wooden communal table spans the brick-walled room, while curios like Victorian boots filled with dried flowers and mismatching candlesticks grace the tables and shelves. A 40-foot-long rope, meanwhile, has been fashioned into a chandelier of sorts above the distressed copper bar. Set designer Philipp Haemmerle staged the interior. It’s undeniably theatrical, but actually pretty cool—the sort of spot to impress a first date who likes to keep up on the trends.
The restaurant’s name sounds like a long-lost Brothers Grimm tale, but it actually references its two chef-owners, Eduard Frauneder (“Edi”) and Wolfgang Ban (“Wolf”), who also own Seasonal. Consider Edi & the Wolf as its stylish, downtown stepsister—formality is abandoned, prices are lowered, and much of the menu is meant for sharing.
Edi & the Schwein might have been a better name, though, since the pork dishes entice more than anything else. Channel your inner alpine climber and order the landjäger ($9), four thin cured and dried sausages. The chewy sticks don’t look like much at first—in fact, they strongly resemble Slim Jims—but are so packed with flavor they barely need the accompanying nasal-clearing spicy mustard. Or for fatty indulgence, try the silky ribbons of belly meat ($9), garnished with horseradish and pearl onions. Hearty baby-back ribs ($13) are equally exciting, though with only four per order, I wouldn’t call it a “sharing” portion.
And, ja, pork schnitzel graces the menu. How could it not? The $19 entrée is certainly good, but true to form, it’s best as a vehicle for the sides—vibrant and creamy potato salad, cooling cucumbers, and sweet-tart lingonberry jam. Cornish hen ($21) also comes battered in breadcrumbs, but without the fixings, it lacks pizzazz. Better to skip over the fried fare and order the sea bass ($22). Crispy-skinned juicy fish rests atop sliced butternuts and Jerusalem artichokes garnished with a touch of squash-infused sauce.
With only two desserts ($7) plus a daily special on the menu, sweets aren’t a strong suit. Indeed, the linzer torte lacks the jammy center of Austria’s best renditions and instead resembles a dense spice cake. But I preferred it to the palatschinken, basically a thick crepe buried under a whirl of chocolate sauce.
Really, Edi & the Wolf functions best not as a full-blown restaurant but as an intimate wine bar. The list is white-focused and features many Grüner Veltliners and Gemischter Satz, most priced around or below $40. So get drinking. Isn’t that the purpose of winter, anyway?