Schunkeln. It's a German verb. It means to link arms and sway rhythmically from side to side, usually a spirited response to power oom-pah, heavy on the flugelhorns. This time of year is a period of most intensive "schunkeling" in southern Germany. Oktoberfest, when the kegs are tapped and they roll out the best of the wurst, often gets me wistful about schnitzel, sauerbraten and sachertorte.
Really, there aren't that many places in Tampa Bay to scratch the sauerbraten itch. But Beate Klobucar, who hails originally from Stuttgart, Germany, can hook you up. Raised in the restaurant business, she balked upon moving to the United States in 1984. No more restaurants. Eventually her husband got her to come around and they opened the first Cafe Vienna in Snell Isle Plaza in 1999, then a second location in downtown St. Petersburg, and finally relocated entirely to a quaint strip on Fourth Street N in 2006.
And even in this economy, with a cuisine that might not be an obvious crowd pleaser ("hop in the car, kids, it's Schnitzel Night!"), Klobucar perseveres. Look around the forest green dining room, flanked at the front by a bar lined with personalized beer mugs and wine glasses, and it's clear: This place has devoted regulars. They find their mug, have it filled with a Spaten pilsner or Franzikaner weissbier, and then consider — am I in the mood for a bratwurst and sauerkraut, or maybe stroganoff over thick squiggles of spaetzle?
Either choice is a good one, the brat paired up with a debrizinger (kind of a spicy hotdog) and a slice of delicate veal loaf alongside a scoop of tangy kraut and another of vinegary warm potato salad (wurst plate, $13.90). Fans of spaetzle (picture the unlikely love children of fettuccine and dumplings) have much to choose from, including a hearty plate of stroganoff ($18.90 dinner, $9.90 lunch) inflected with Dijon, dill pickle and a swirl of sour cream, to a spirited dish of zigeuner schnitzel ($16.90 at dinner, $8.90 lunch). This last translates as gypsy schnitzel, a loosely Hungarian/Romanian riff on sauteed center-cut pork chop smothered in a tangy/sweet/spicy sauce of chopped red bell peppers, pepperoncini and onion, given a splash of cream and then perched atop the chewy egg noodle twists.
Veal and pork cutlets in many guises are the anchor at Cafe Vienna, although in recent years Klobucar has added steaks ($21) and salmon or snapper (market price) to appeal to a broader audience. For my money, I'm heading for classic German fare, from marinated herring ($6.90) lush with sour cream and set atop mixed greens, to a traditional rouladen ($16.90), beef pounded thin and rolled around bacon, dill pickle and onion with a slick of Dijon mustard, then plated alongside buttery fried potatoes and a big spoon of cinnamony-tangy red cabbage.
This is not light fare, but dishes at Cafe Vienna are homey, flavorful, ample and a change of pace. Administered warmly by Klobucar and other members of her family, the food makes one wonder why this part of Western Europe is so underrepresented on the local scene. This time of year, we gladly heft a stein in honor of German beer, but it takes a reminder — maybe a slice of Granny Smith apple strudel ($3.90) or a wedge of dense, glossy chocolate cake with a hint of apricot jam ($5.90) — that German food is also worthy of high praise and a little impromptu "schunkeling."
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. She dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.