Do the hasenpfeffer!

Dinner for two: $20 - $40

Freddie and the Hasenpfeffers, resident band at Café Vienna. Intrigued? Sure you are. I know I am. See, we went to Café Vienna on a regular night, ignorant of its opulent “dine and dance” nights—where for $23 one can partake of a sumptuous buffet of German and Austrian fare, drink copious amounts of lager and stagger-dance along to the musical stylings of Freddie and the Hasenpfeffers in a big banquet hall. Learning this, my party and I were all a bit crestfallen, as though we had missed out on the real party. Here we were facing merely a sit-down, order, eat and leave affair, obviously far less cool than living it up with the Hasenpfeffers. Well, the next big dine and dance will be on Feb. 3 (I think they’re every other Saturday), and at the moment I’m seriously considering getting fitted for some lederhosen and saving up for a crate of Rolaids in anticipation of the big night.

Frankly, I think we should all thank whoever’s in charge for the existence of places like Café Vienna. I mean, there must come a time when suiting up for drinks at places such as the Hyatt or Morton’s, or spending a sophisticated evening at Biba, become little more than tired re-visitations of the same aesthetic angle, little more than the next mundane rut of a predictable existence. And when you find yourself in such a rut, what better tonic than to nip off to spend an evening doing the polka at a German buffet in West Sac? Café Vienna provides the kind of bracing aesthetic alternative that enriches an already culturally fertile metropolitan area. Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that the place is just a bit tacky, but in a good way.

I’ve always had a soft spot for German food for some reason, and the usual attractions were there: sauerbraten, schnitzel, sausages, sauerkraut, spätzle, rouladen, etc. But this was the first time I’d seen hasenpfeffer on a menu (for those of you who don’t know, it’s baked rabbit laced with cranberries). Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mood for it, because I really wanted to be able to yell, “Where’s my hasenpfeffer!!!!” like that overbearing despot in the Bugs Bunny cartoon. Maybe some other time.

But here’s what we did have: Morris had the beef rouladen ($14.95), and was enthusiastic about it. A thin piece of top round steak was painted with mustard and rolled around onions and a big honking pickle spear, and then slow-cooked in a medium-viscosity gravy. It seemed to me that the acidic component that the pickle and mustard added to the rich brown gravy and tender meat gave the dish its noticeably robust and complex palate.

Morris’ half brother had the paprika chicken ($13.95), which I personally thought was the best dish of the evening. The chicken was nicely tender, softened by long braising, and was immersed in an aggressive paprika sauce, the brunt of which was nevertheless softened significantly by delicate swirls of sour cream.

My sister’s boyfriend’s niece’s stepdad had the veal cordon bleu ($15.95) and I had the Viennese onion roast ($15.95). The cordon bleu was, as expected, breaded, fried and stuffed with ham and cheese—a good version of the classic; the onion roast (a bit dry) consisted of a flattened piece of steak with caramelized onions and topped with onion rings.

I guess the only negatives were that the potato dumplings and spätzles were rather bland and none of the food was mind-blowing, but I figure if you make it to the dine ’n’ dance and factor in the joys attendant on buffets, as well as the Bavarian magic of Freddie and the Hasenpfeffers, you’ve got a memorable night on your hands.