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No.16 A Few of My Favorite Things

… Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things.

Did Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers think schnitzel and noodles belonged together? Or did it just work out better in the phrasing? In any case, when in Austria, it is not noodles but potato or cucumber salad served with Schnitzel. And if you have a craving for it, you won’t find a better version of traditional Austrian Schnitzel than at Vienna restaurant Skopik and Lohn. On a recent visit, I headed over to talk with co-owners Chef Horst Scheuer and wife Connie about food, their restaurant, and Austrian cuisine.

Skopik and Lohn opened in 2006, but not where it was originally planned. But for a twist of fate, it might now be located on Orchard Street in New York. But as often happens in the volatile New York restaurant scene, the “money” backed out at the last minute. On re-evaluation, the best location for the project turned out to be 4,226 miles east, at Leopoldsgasse 17, Vienna.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Taking over the space of a former Gasthaus called Platzwirt, Skopik and Lohn opened in the Karmeliterviertel district, the old Jewish quarter of pre-war Vienna. The neighborhood has seen steady gentrification in recent years with a younger generation taking over and occupying the old infrastructure. It’s a diverse, dynamic neighborhood, quite mad at times but built on a solid traditional foundation. Now if you walk along Leopoldstrasse, which runs throughout the district center, you will find all manner of innovative new ventures with restaurants a-plenty to choose from. You could say the same of New York’s Lower East Side. So it is natural that Skopik and Lohn would have landed here.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Skopik and Lohn’s decor does not stray too far from the traditional Gasthaus style. In fact, it is in large part unchanged from its previous owner, much like the best Gastropubs in London, where old venues are bought and restored by a new generation of chefs, bringing a modern twist to old establishments. However, there is one decorative element unique to Skopik and Lohn. It’s quite simple, but a stroke of genius, and boldly stakes the new owners claim to the space. With his characteristic low key style, Horst asked Artist Otto Zitko to “have a go” at the ceiling. This takes doodling to a whole new level.

The lighting is also something to remember. Small paper bags each outfitted with a tea light make for a very special ambiance in the dining room and, weather permitting, outdoors. If you happen to be in Vienna in the summer or early fall, ask to sit in the “Schanigarten”, Viennese slang for the outdoor seating area: so nice when the weather is good.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Staff are all outfitted in traditional white coat attire. It reminds you of the way waiters used to dress in formal establishments and is another subtle nod to the historical underpinnings of the space.

You really don’t want to debate Schnitzel with a local. You will find as many opinions as there are people willing to express them. My personal opinion is: you like what you are used to. When I was growing up, Wiener Schnitzel was most often prepared at home by your mother, grandmother or an aunt, and you got used to that preparation. So now whatever tastes like that, is the “best” Schnitzel.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

For the uninitiated, Schnitzel is a cut of meat tenderized by pounding and then breaded and fried. I find that in many Viennese restaurants, the dish suffers from an effort to make the meat larger than the plate. It is unruly, and this quest for size does nothing for the flavor or texture of the dish. It just gets cold faster. This is Schnitzel for tourists and is more useful as a Facebook post than as something to eat.

… there is one decorative element unique to Skopik and Lohn … Horst asked Artist Otto Zitko to “have a go” at the ceiling. This takes doodling to a whole new level.

I prefer Horst’s, the more subtle and contemporary presentation, cut in half and served in two pieces – an old-school full-lard preparation. The old way is the right way – in my opinion. Horst told me a few other tricks he uses but swore me to secrecy. Between you and me though, I think he will probably tell you if you ask nicely.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Schnitzel not your thing? There are lots of other dishes, all new takes on traditional Austrian favorites. I also sampled the salmon with avocado and cherry tomatoes, the calf cheeks with lavage puree, and the young salmon with pea puree and amaranth.

You may be curious about the name Skopik and Lohn. This goes to the heart of Horst’s life-long love of food and his dedication to tradition and modernity in equal measure. Horst grew up in Lower Austria. In fact, his parents operated a local restaurant. Nearby was an eatery, as Horst tells it, way ahead of its time. That restaurant was the work of Josef Skopik and greatly influenced Horst in his early years. It was distinguished by the fact that it contained an American style bowling alley – a strange combination that is documented in a great black and white photograph in the restaurant.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Upon moving to Vienna, Horst became acquainted with restaurateur and raconteur Michi Lohn, a mainstay of the Viennese art scene. For years he famously hosted a weekly gathering of artists and eccentrics called Kunstlabor Stammtisch (Art Laboratory Roundtable). Skopik & Lohn can be seen as the amalgamation of Horst’s experiences with these distinctive characters in local lore.

When you are done with your meal don’t rush off. It is traditional to enjoy an espresso or final small glass of wine (say “ein achterl weisswein bitte”) at the bar on your way out. A great start to exploring Vienna by night.

Details

Opening hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 6pm-1am. www.skopikundlohn.at

For more information on Artist Otto Zitko; www.ottozitko.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

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