Based on an old decree proclaimed by Austrian Emperor Franz Josef II on August 17, 1784 which permitted all residents to open establishments that sold and served self-produced wine from this year’s most recent crop, the tradition of a heuriger can still be found throughout Austria today.
Heuriger is a licensed establishment closely monitored by the Austrian government and given a special permit that must adhere to strict guidelines of what it means to be a heuriger. Among some of the rules of operating a heuriger establishment they must only serve their own self-produced wine from this year’s most recent crop, they can only serve a limited selection of authentic Austrian fare, they can only be open for a certain amount of time each year, and no pre-recorded or background music may be played, rather, if there is to be music it must be performed by two live Heurigensanger who go around performing from table to table.
On a recent trip to Austria, my husband and I had the opportunity to go to a real Heurigen dinner in a small little village today located on the outskirts of the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) where vineyards are plentiful and wine growing is fruitful, called Grinzing. Today, Vienna’s suburbs have grown so much so that Grinzing has become part of the 19th District of Vienna. Grinzing, especially, has become known as a location to have an authentic heuriger experience.
Heuriger Reinprecht is the name of the restaurant we went to, which was transformed from is former life as a monastery established over 300 years ago. The famous composer of operettas Robert Stolz loved this restaurant so much that it was here where he composed his song “I Feel at Home in Grinzing.” The Heuriger Reinprecht’s self-produced wines have won awards year after year.
Unfortunately, all this talk of tasting award-winning wine from this year’s most recent crop is completely lost on me since I don’t drink at all. So, it obviously wasn’t the wine that drew me to attend the heuriger, but rather the chance to taste some great, authentic Austrian food and be a part of the atmosphere of a heuriger. My husband did partake in the wine and tells me that the wine was wine, nothing special and nothing fancy. But, keep in mind, he’s not a wine connoisseur.
The interior of the restaurant is decorated to resemble a rustic hunting lodge with all sorts of stuffed game birds on the walls as well as other hunting paraphernalia. The seats are wooden benches and booths and filled with all sorts of rustic and homey charm. Our group of 9 were all seated at one table in a family style setting. It turned out to be a terrific night of food, drink, music and lots of fun.
As soon as we sat down at the table and our wine and drinks had been served, the first course of soup came out. As we were on this heurigen excursion as part of a tour group, our meal had already been pre-arranged. The soup was a type of chicken chowder, filled with a deliciously flavorful broth and chicken and chunky vegetables such as potatoes and carrots. Everyone agreed that the soup was just delicious and quite unexpected.
After the soup course came a salad course. This course was a bit more interesting, and seemed to be hit and miss with everyone. I think out of our group of 9, only a couple of people actually finished the whole salad course. Instead of it being a plate of salad that was brought it, it was a plate with a combination of what seemed to be 3 different types of salad: a coleslaw type salad with cabbage and fennel seed, a cucumber salad and a potato salad all topped with a large slice of tomato. Personally, I loved the cucumber salad. It had just the right amount of vinegar and spices and I ate the whole thing. My husband loved the potato salad and finished that right away. He was not as keen on the cucumber salad like I was. And I was not loving the cold potato salad as much as he was. But we both agreed that the coleslaw with the cabbage and fennel seed was a bit too heavy on the fennel for us, so neither of us finished that.
As we started our dinner, the Heurigensanger showed up to entertain us with live music. These Hungrian performers consisted of a violinist and an accordion player. They entertained us with some traditional Austrian/German music as well as some favorites we’d actually recognized, such as “God Bless America”, “God, Save the Queen”, “Edelweiss”, and “Do Re Mi”.
Next up came the main course. Since we were eating family style, we were served our food family style. The waiter brought the food out on a giant silver platter which was loaded up with all sorts of Austrian specialities. It was a sight to behold as this mountain of food was brought to our table! It both smelled terrific and looked mouth-wateringly good that we were all chomping at the bit for our chance to dig into the platter! The platter included sauerkraut, grilled sausages, roasted potatoes, pork chops, roasted chicken, ham, and of course, what Austrian meal would be complete without authentic Wienerschnitzel!
Schnitzel is a traditional Austrian and German dish made of meat that is pounded thin by a mallet and then breaded and fried. Often served with a slice of lemon alongside either a potato salad or roasted potatoes with parsley and butter, this is a typical Austrian/German speciality. In Viennese cooking, Wienerschnitzel (Viennese Schnitzel) is made the traditional way using veal. When made traditionally, by law in Austria and Germany, it is allowed to be called Wienerschnitzel. Though, in many establishments today you’ll see schnitzel made with pork instead of veal, in which case it cannot be called Wienerschnitzel or must be specifically distinguished as being made from pork instead of veal.
Having traditional Wienerschnitzel at our meal was the highlight for each person. This was the one item we were all looking forward to eating. And the Wienerschnitzel we were served did not disappoint. I am generally not a fan of veal, but this piece of meat pounded then and breaded and fried was absolutely to-die-for. Sprinkled with some lemon juice on top, I couldn’t get enough of it. In fact, all of the food I grabbed off the platter was fantastic! After pressure from my husband, I even tried the sauerkraut, which was ok, but a little sweet. My husband loved the sausages along with the Wienerschnitzel. I loved the pork chop as well as the Weinerschnitzel and the potatoes. You can bet that most, if not all, the meat was gone from the platter they gave us. Unfortunately, they gave us so much potatoes and sauerkraut that we weren’t able to finish all of it.
Finally, the last course of dessert came out. Now, you can’t have a traditional Austrian meal without the traditional Austrian dessert of apfelstrudel, or what we know here as apple strudel. Apfelstrudel was made popular in the 18th century during the time of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The traditional preparation of the unleavened dough is a difficult process that results in an amazing thin, elastic dough. The dough is then filled with cooking apples, cinnamon, raisins, sugar and bread crumbs. Here at the Heuriger Reinprecht, they served us apfelstrudel with a side of whipped cream; but it can also be served alongside vanilla ice cream or vanilla sauce. As I am not a big fan, at all, of fruit filled pies or pastries, apfelsturdel doesn’t excite me. But, as long as we’re having a traditional Austrian dinner, I can’t at least have some of the apfelstrudel. To my surprise, I almost finished the whole thing! The dough/crust was nice and light and elastic and the apple filling with the sugar and cinnamon was a perfect combination.
What a terrific night of laughs, fun, singing, and amazing Austrian food. My husband and I were both glad we took advantage of our opportunity to go to a traditional heurige dinner. We loved every second of it, from the company, to the setting and atmosphere, to the food. If you ever find yourself in Vienna, find a way to get yourself out to Grinzing, or any of the other villages that offer a heurige dinner and take full advantage of the experience. You won’t be disappointed!