Austria is beyond rich in history. This little landlocked country has gone from being the grand Habsburg Empire to being nonaligned. Vienna was left with little to rule as the Great Depression swept the Nazis to power. Austria’s neutrality in 1955 led to better days but the past is still hauntingly present.
Our book club recently selected Daniel Silva’s, A Death in Vienna and to match the Austrian theme we ate at Jorg’s Café Vienna. My friend Margot is Austrian and it was through her that our little book club became a history lesson that we could taste.
On a cold October day a hearty Austrian meal hit the spot. Think...Traditional goulash, Gurkensalat (cucumber salad), Wienerschnitzel with red cabbage and spatzle on the side. It made for very happy stomaches. This was all found not Austria but Plano, Texas at Jorg's Cafe Vienna.
Nestled in between quaint antique shops in charming “old” Plano you can find Jorg’s Café Vienna where our book club enjoyed a taste of Austria. The atmosphere is warm and cozy with an accordion player encouraging an involuntary body sway to the oompah sounds as the friendly waiter brings another round of Austrian beer.
After eating hearty warm Austrian cuisine the belly is full but the waiter kindly asks, "How about some homemade bread pudding with Austrian rum"…you simply must say, “ja bitte!” Then when the waiter comes back with shots of jagermeister, you smile and say "prost!" Once again the belly is happy.
Jorg’s Café Vienna reminded me of an Italian Osteria where the dishes are rustic, not fancy and you feel a communal experience with the biergarten style seating and home style food and service. The Austrian "guesthouse" type restaurant is very family friendly and full of babies that all look like they've been raised on sausages. Reading "Jorg’s menu tells you that many of the recipes are old family dishes from his Mutti and Oma. When you taste Jorg’s food, you taste old world Austria and the love that went into the preparation (today and decades ago).
As soon as Margot sat down at Jorg’s restaurant, Jorg saw her and with such exciting intensity beckoned her to come meet his wife. The three of them became instant family. They share something that only expats can understand...a connection with their first home.
Many expats who live abroad can be found in restaurants like Jorg’s because there’s something about being there that reminds them of their home. The food, music and nostalgic atmosphere can link them together.
I have often thought that my Austrian friend seems to have two hearts...divided by countries. Expats have unbreakable bonds with friends and family in both places but they are torn between their old and new homes. So much of who we are is based on where we are.
Talking about Daniel Silva's A Death in Vienna (the third book in a series) stirred up many feelings. There are characters in the book that would rather ignore that the Holocaust ever happened. It’s a thought provoking story that conjures up many emotions about the sensitive subject, the Holocaust and those who helped the Nazis escape punishment.
Gabriel Allon has the cover of an Italian art restorer, but is an Israeli assassin. He is not anxious to go back to the city of Vienna where his wife and son were victims of a car bomb. Gabriel learns that a man named Max Klein may have had something to do with the bombing. Klein was a Jewish violinist in the Auschwitz camp orchestra and remembers a Nazi named Erich Radek who killed camp prisoners. Gabriel is on a quest to find him as he remembers his mother.
History shapes and molds us all. Enjoyment of literature like the book A Death in Vienna is certainly a good way to raise awareness and heighten sensitivities about how the history of an “old country” like Austria has contributed to the personas of its citizens. Notwithstanding the benefits of literature however, actually hearing, seeing and tasting culture as we did at Jorg’s Café Vienna was truly a delightful educational awakening.