“Our white asparagus is flown in from Europe every Thursday,” says Emmy-winning, and charming, Chef Erwin Schröttner co-owner and founder of Cafe Katja on Orchard Street. The rare and valuable delicacy’s short season lasts through mid-June, so the time to enjoy them is now.
At Cafe Katja, Chef Erwin serves the crisp, delicately flavored white asparagus stalks warm, with a variety of accompaniments including a delicious, eggy-but-light hollandaise and new potatoes, on a bed of frisée with a lemon vinaigrette, with a traditional pairing of Tiroler speck and drawn butter, and with ever so lightly smoked salmon and an herbaceous, bright green garlic sauce. To complement the white asparagus, Chef recommends a full-bodied Austrian wine Gebeshuber 2015 Muschelkalk Rotgipfler, or a delicious sparkling sec, Szigeti Grüner Veltliner.
White asparagus, or spargel, is celebrated with festivals throughout Europe, especially in Germany and Austria, where Chef Erwin grew up on a farm that has been in his family for hundreds of years. “We grew up in heaven in the foothills of the Alps,” he says, “with the freshest food, and learning the traditional ways of caring for animals and the land.” He recalls that his father, before butchering a pig for the family larder, would spend 15 minutes with the animal, thanking it, and paying respect. It is those memories of home, and the delicious food his mother and grandmother prepared for the family table, that inspired him to leave the world of 5-star restaurants and hospitality, and open Cafe Katja – a comfortably elegant neighborhood place named after his daughter, serving Austrian specialties.
Don’t sleep on this celebration of white asparagus, and other Austrian specialties like wiener schnitzel, house-made liverwurst, sausages, pickles, and pretzels – the white asparagus season ends in June. And save room for dessert. The cafe serves a stellar apfel strudel, with schlag, of course.
Cafe Katja does not take reservations, and is located at 79 Orchard Street. You can also learn more about Austrian cooking and traditions on Erwin Cooks, Chef Erwin Schröttner’s Emmy-winning PBS show.