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On another one of those bitterly cold, snowy nights we’ve been experiencing so often this winter, we ventured out of the warmth of our Brooklyn residences and made the trek to the Lower East Side, where we met two friends at Cafe Katja.  It’s a small place, with a nice bar and just a few tables.  We were seated fairly quickly, which was lucky because not too long after our arrival the place became slam packed.

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Cafe Katja is understandably popular.  They serve an excellent selection of beers in true Austrian style — by the liter.  There’s also the great wine list, which features red and whites primarily from Austria and Hungary.  And then there’s the fantastic food.  AND it’s affordable, especially for a hip Lower East Side joint.  It’s hard not to enjoy this place.

Local sources tell us that the restaurant is inspired by traditional Austrian buschenschanks, little places to eat and drink, where farmers sell what they’ve harvested for the season.  The food was fresh enough here, even in the dead of an NYC winter, that the comparison is acceptably fitting.

Despite the crowd encroaching on us, we took our time and sampled as much of the menu as possible.  This slow dining experience was facilitated by the slight delay in service.  Our lovely waitress was taking care of the whole restaurant, and the kitchen seemed to be running slow.  All that was fine  by us since the beer and wine kept flowing and the food trickled out at a perfect pace.

sampler

We started the with the aufschnitt teller, a sampler of cured meats, spreads and pickled onions and carrots.  The roasted beet and goat cheese salad followed, along with a marinated herring salad.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of salty fish, but those at the table that do enjoy them raved about it.

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Our main dishes were all stellar.  I enjoyed a perfectly prepared and portioned seared trout with spinach and roasted potatoes, topped with a pat of garlic butter. Yum…

trout

Across from me Supereg wrestled with a gigantic plate of beef goulash and spätzle, a traditional egg pasta that was served with a creamy sauce.

goulash

Despite his insistence earlier in the night that he would not eat any sausage, Noquar, who is still having nightmares after his horrible experience following our trip to the Argentine steakhouse, ended up ordering the homemade bratwurst, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

bratwurst

One of our dinner companions ordered the buckwheat spätzle, which was served in a heap with squash, nuts, and chopped brussels sprouts, and topped with grated parmesan.  This is an exceptionally good dish, highly recommended for vegetarians who might be wary of dining at an Austrian restaurant where much of the menu is meat.  The other friend ordered the sausage stuffed with cheese, a special for the evening.  Also fantastic.

buckwheatspatzle

We finished the meal with the dessert special.  A few people ordered coffee that turned out to be exceptionally bitter, but I couldn’t resist trying an Austrian liquer that smelled like a Christmas tree and had a delicious sweet, piney flavor.  By this time a friendly man, presumably one of the restaurant’s owners, was working the floor, settled our bill, and ushered us out so he could seat a few more of the 15 or so people who were patiently waiting, sipping on their liters of beer.  We stumbled back out into the snowy night stuffed and happy.