A study in the classics.
By Stefanie Gans
We’re in Ashburn in an Austrian (not Italian) restaurant and we’re actually eating spaetzle, in a blue cheese sauce speckled with torn pieces of spinach. When spaetzle is served as a side—like it is on the jagerschnitzel covered in a decadent and smoky bacon-and-mushroom cream sauce—there is a browned crispness to the dough, cut to the size of raisins.
In the gnocchi knock-off, the potato doppelgangers give slightly to pressure, like a therapeutic pillow. It’s a dish, says chef and owner Thomas Verschnik, found at skiing resorts in Austria; a bowl of creamy comfort in snowy Europe sounds right.
Verschnik, 34, and his childhood friend Sabeena Sachar, 31, opened At Kaiser’s – The Austrian Gasthaus last fall. After training in Austria and cooking across Europe, Verschnik moved to Northern Virginia in 2012. Sachar, who already lived in the area, could never find a proper Austrian restaurant. She told Verschnik, “There’s nothing around besides all those chain restaurants,” and so they put together this gasthaus, a German word for casual restaurant.
Served in a squat, swivel-closure glass jar, a light beef broth shows off its oniony side and in lieu of noodles, offers strips of herby pancake. Somehow, the slivers achieved stasis: They do not swell from the broth or dissolve into mush, but stay doughy.
The wienerschitzel is less surprising, but still good, as pork, pounded to the height of a piece of paper, gains its taste from a heavy breading and frying and a dab of lingonberry jam.
A pork roast was tough and chewy, but the roasting sauce covers its lack of flavor, as did the mound of vinegary sauerkraut. Bread dumplings, pressed croutons cut into flat disks, tasted of Thanksgiving stuffing from a box.
The wurst platter is thanks to a butcher in Baltimore (Verschnik wouldn’t reveal the name), and the brats are juicy, chewy and meaty. The spice on the debrezeinr sausage is a lovely heat that floats in the mouth.
Dessert comes in the form of a pancake, a traditional Austrian dessert. By whipping the egg whites separately, then folding them into a sweet batter, the pancakes become fluffy. Arriving shredded and caramelized in sugar, with an extra dusting of powdered sugar, it’s like eating the insides of funnel cake.
“We’re not going into fusion cuisines or any exotic food,” says Verschnik. He doesn’t rely on trends to guide the menu, including making the sausages in-house, even though he’s trained. This is not an ambitious restaurant; he’s cooking Austrian standards. “I know it’s a risk,” he says. Sometimes staying classic is.
At Kaiser’s – The Austrian Gasthaus
A brat and 16-ounce beer is $9.50 during happy hour.
Appetizers: $5.50–$14.95; Entrees: $14.95–$21.95
Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner
44110 Ashburn Shopping Plaza, Ashburn, atkaisers.com