July 10 2012

Beer and Brats with Austrian Über-Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner

New York-Table Talk

Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner

When he signed on to create the first Standard Biergarten three years ago, famed Austrian chef and restaurateur Kurt Gutenbrunner knew exactly what he wanted: The best elements of traditional Bavarian drinking culture remixed for an urban audience.

Certain thematic elements were left behind (Wagner, Meerschaum pipes), while others (Bitburger beers, sausages, cabbage and radish salads, perfect apple strudels) were enthusiastically embraced.

For the man who almost single-handedly introduced Austrian haute cuisine to Manhattan—with Wallsé in the West Village, Blaue Gans in Tribeca, Café Sabarsky at the Neue Museum, and now Café Kristall in SoHo—the Biergarten at The Standard, New York would be a return to simpler times. Communal dining, Ping-Pong tables—even the drink ticket system—were all designed to maximize social interaction and minimize stress. The first Biergarten was such a success another was added last year to the roof of The Standard, Downtown L.A.

“It’s like an amusement park," says Gutenbrunner. “You feel free. You just walk in and buy your tickets, which is great for meeting people. When a guy wants to buy a girl a drink, he just pulls out a ticket. It's a good start."

Like most traditional biergartens, The Standard gets its suds from a single source, Bitburger Breweries. Over 4,000 kegs are drained every year at the New York location, more than any biergarten or bar in Germany or Austria. "I don't have 20 different types of beer, just like I don't have 20 different girlfriends," Gutenbrunner laughs. “You have to make a decision, so I picked the pilsner I like the best."

Bitburger not only supplies the pilsner, but also the wheat and dark beers. It's a loyal partnership: when the Austrian arm of the brewery ran low on supplies one summer, they flew kegs in from Frankfurt to New York free of charge.

Gutenbrunner’s own innovations include storing the kegs in a walk-in cooler and, in New York, constructing a pipe that travels up from the bar, follows the line of the roof and drops down to a pair of VIP tables reserved for customers who want their own personal tap.

The restaurant’s famed sausages (aka bratwurst) get just as much attention. In Austria, customers are as loyal to certain butchers as they are to their chosen brewery. So, too, in New York; the Biergarten uses a local supplier that's been making bratwurst since the 1930s.

One of the culinary mysteries of both Biergartens is how Gutenbrunner gets the melted cheese to spread so evenly in the cheese sausage. Turns out he uses an old Viennese recipe in which the cheese is mixed in with the sausage before the Brat hits the grill. An Austrian butcher visiting the chef insisted the recipe required emmental, while the New York supplier insisted on cheddar. (They went with cheddar.) Guttenbrunner also serves up regular bratwurst, smoked spicy bratwurst, and a phenomenal hot dog with cheese, wrapped in bacon.

Gutenbrunner’s guiding principle? “If you’re going to do the classics, make sure you do them better.” When it comes to wiener schnitzel, that means using the “correct” breadcrumbs and cooking each filet individually. Pretzels are made in the Bavarian style using heavy dough. With the strudel, a crucial Austrian dish, he also takes no chances: it's supplied by Wallsé.

Kurt's favorite album *

But in other ways, it’s also about adaptation. The only lederhosen in sight is on the whimsical printed t-shirts worn by the bar staff. This isn’t a heritage ride—just an experiment in taking the best of the past and twisting it toward modern city living.

"People don't come here to eat," Gutenbrunner explains. "They come for the communication, to meet people, drink some beer and hang out. Maybe you'll eat something. Maybe you'll make new friends.”

* just guessing

RELATED: Read about Seamus Mullen, our new Chef in Residence at The Standard Plaza