When you think of Vienna, you may think of Mozart. But when I think of Vienna, I think of pastries, and that’s what Don Holtzer thinks about every day. He owns Franz’s Backstube Austrian Bakery Café at Mayberry Landing.
Viennese pastries take you into a magical world of delicacies with a complex history and incredible recipes. The most important thing anyone should know about Viennese pastries is that the dough is the key element. The special short dough is the heart of these pastries, giving them a crumbly and fragile texture. This type of dough does not contain baking powder. Instead, it contains a lot of butter, the thing that makes these baked pastry products melt in the mouth, leaving behind a rich taste.
Ken Holtzer was raised in Reno. His career started as an apprentice under Josef Pasa and Franz Hauser at the Mapes Hotel. Then, Kansas City, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York’s Marriott Marquis, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., where he worked on three presidential inauguration parties. (He says he had a shot at becoming the White House pastry chef, but passed.) He’s been on The Food Network, and cooked at The James Beard House.
He’s won numerous culinary medals. Bon Appetite magazine named him one of the 30 most influential pastry chefs in America. In 2008, he decided to return to his roots, took a hiatus, and came back to work for Hauser, and now Holtzer owns this Backstube.
It’s a cozy little place. The inside is warm with wood tables seating about 18, and there’s outside seating for warm weather. You order, and the nice ladies will serve your food at the table. A simple menu that focuses on pastries and coffee or lunch sandwiches ($4.95-$7.25), salads ($3.25), quiches ($4.25) and soups ($4.50-$5.75). Everything is made from scratch daily.
Curiosity about the Austrian goulash (cup, $4.50) got the best of me. While goulash is a Hungarian dish, several central European countries have created their own iterations, and this one proved to be exceptional. Top round in a rich, tomato-based sauce with four Hungarian spices not revealed—it’s a secret recipe. The meat melts in your mouth, and the savory flavor of the thick broth hints of paprika and perhaps cinnamon, and left my sleuth palate rewarded but still curious.
The chicken salad sandwich ($7.25) with berries on a croissant was a simple but elegant delight. Culinary evidence—old cookbooks, menus, etc.—confirms minced cooked meat and mayonnaise-type salads were popular in America beginning in colonial times. These culinary traditions were brought to our shores by European, especially German, settlers.
Apples, celery and blackberries are served on a house-baked, butter-flaked croissant layered with flavors and texture. The berries balanced tartness to the sweetness of the apples and the celery bound the white-meat chicken bites to the fruit all painted with a simple mayonnaise dressing. It was succulent, rich and extremely satisfying, well complementing the goulash.
This place has extraordinary pastries, petit fours, streusel, tortes and cakes. In fact, since Holtzer took over nine months ago, he’s been emphasizing “celebration” cakes as his specialty. And he’s created some amazing pastries of his own. His Herr Donut Torte brought my eyebrows to new heights: chopped cashews, peanuts and Brazil nuts coated with caramel and chocolate in a butter cup torte shell—say good night Gracie, this was nut ecstasy. If you could take a Baby Ruth candy bar and intensify the flavor 100 times, you might appreciate how delicious this tasted. It’s all about flavor and this little pastry shop has all the grandeur in your mouth that a Mozart symphony does in your ear.