Intro to the Series:
For years now, I have called the Seattle area as my home and my love for good coffee is irrevocable. Coming to Vienna, I had my heart set on spending good time in at least one Kaffehaus, for I have read much about how these institutions play an integral part in Viennese culture. And that’s on top of the benefits of a good cup of caffeinated beverage, which is a necessity for weary travelers like myself.
In 1900, Vienna had over 600 coffeehouses and have become an institution. Intellectuals and creative souls like Sigmund Freud and Gustav Klimt frequented these places boosting their popularity. There was no question that I had to partake and experience this 300-year-old tradition and savor Vienna’s coffee culture. So during my stay, I managed to hit four of these institutions and even returned to one for seconds. While I initially intended to write about all four in one entry, there is just so much details about my experience that I want to share; hence, a series of entries is necessary. So here goes the first part.
Located right along the Ringstrasse directly across the historic Burgtheater, I opted to sit outside. It was a crisp autumn morning, which I thought was perfect for a good up of coffee and soup. I ordered a cup of their Pumpkin Cream Soup, which arrived promptly. I also asked for a Wiener Melange, which is similar to a cappuccino. By definition, it is supposed to be equal parts steamed milk and foam with a dusting of cocoa powder.
The Landtmann is the sole remaining café from the original Ringstrasse, the circular boulevard that Emperor Franz Josef had built where the city walls once were. Founded in 1873 by Franz Landtmann, this Viennese institution is still one of the most popular in the city with contemporary regulars like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney. Now owned by the Querfeld family, the place exudes elegance. The waiter politely left the English menu after I have put in my initial order. The soup I had was the perfect remedy after that slightly chilly walk from Opernring. The coffee, though milder than I usually prefer, was smooth and comforting.
Where I was seated, I had the luxury of admiring the architecture of the theater and other surrounding buildings. When I was done with my soup, I beckoned the server and ordered an apple strudel (apfelstrudel). This was when it got a little weird. He asked me one more time just to confirm that I really wanted an apple strudel, and it was not the tone that someone uses if they missed what you were saying. It was the tone of, “Are you sure you want an apple strudel?” It’s as if in his mind, this short Asian lady would never be able to handle her strudel after a small bowl of soup and some bread. Frankly, I was getting a little annoyed by this, but I stayed civil with him and confirmed my request.
He came back with my apple strudel shortly. And darn it, that strudel was good. (Confession: I don’t like apple pie; I find it too sweet and overloaded with cinnamon all the time. Yeah, very un-American of me, but just live with it.) This apple strudel made me happy. The layer of thinly sliced apples stacked and encased in a paper-thin crust propelled me to an Austrian grandmother’s kitchen. I didn’t leave a single crumb on my plate. Take that, you nosy waiter!
After I wiped my plate clean, I asked for my check. The server was very nice to me this time. I’m pretty sure he was impressed by the damage I had done though to me, it really was nothing. I wonder what he would have thought if I had ordered a giant helping of goulash before dessert? His head would have probably exploded.
Overall, I was pleased with Cafe Landtmann. I could have been put off by the waiter, but I showed him who was boss. Offering free Wi-fi to to their patrons surely helped. I was glad that I stopped by for a light meal there to observe and absorb. I don’t think it is a place for any schmuck to just roll in, but then again, Vienna has sophistication down to a science. Would I go back? Probably. Its location is perfect for a pre-theater meal and/or a romantic evening out, and I would never pass an opportunity to spend some time in place where history’s greats hung out.