Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
At European Bistro, even the schnitzel, sauerkraut, and spaetzle are airy, greaseless, and wholesome
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., April 2, 2010
European Bistro111 E. Main St., Pflugerville, 512/835-1919
Tuesday-Wednesday, 5-9pm; Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, 11am-8pm; closed Monday
European Bistro, nestled in the heart of Pflugerville's tiny historic district, is an undiscovered gem, serving some of the most authentic, classically made European cuisine available in Central Texas. Owned and operated by chef Piroska Althauser and her sister Anni Zovek, European Bistro serves Czech, French, German, Hungarian, and Russian specialties, but made as you have never had them before.
To begin with, Althauser, who trained in the exacting and stringent discipline of post-war European culinary tradition, prepares everything on the menu from scratch each day. All the ingredients must be "farmers' market fresh" to meet her standards, and the dishes are prepared with an emphasis on bringing out each ingredient's essential flavor. Most striking of all, although German, Russian, and Hungarian cuisines are usually thought of as heavy and filling, under Althauser's hands they are anything but: Not only are her salads and soups splendid, flavorful, and light, but even her schnitzel, sauerkraut, and spaetzle are airy, greaseless, and wholesome. Although the portions are substantial (no nouvelle cuisine smidgens here!), I walked away from a five-course feast at European Bistro feeling alert, comfortable, and energized. In fact, my entire take on Eastern European cuisines has been altered by my experience there.
The bistro is located in a century-old historic building, lovingly restored and spotlessly, spotlessly clean. "We always get a 100 percent rating from the Health Department," says Zovek, and I wonder if she is aware of how incredibly rare that is. "On weekends, we have customers who drive all the way here from Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, they so much love our food!" she adds. "But we are only 20 minutes from Downtown Austin, even less from Cedar Park and Georgetown." Considering Central Texas' large German and Czech populations, European Bistro seems poised to become hugely popular once the word gets out.
The bistro offers a full menu of German, French, Hungarian, and Transylvanian wines, as well as German and Czech beers (including Paulaner Oktoberfest on tap), but I was intrigued by the Hungarian sodas and ordered the sour cherry ($3.25). I am, sadly, now ruined for all standard carbonated beverages forever: tart, intense, with deep cherry flavor, and not too sweet; it was lyrical. Our server then brought out the fresh homemade bread with three-cheese spread ($1.25 per person), the second indication that we were in for an extraordinary experience. The slices of white and pumpernickel bread were clearly freshly baked, as in made on the premises and removed from the oven within the last hour. Soft and warm, the bread paired beautifully with the feta and sweet red pepper-infused spread.
The Hungarian lightly breaded cauliflower ($6), served with house-made mayonnaise, was a delight: hand-breaded fresh (not frozen) cauliflower, still ever so slightly firm, yet cooked to perfection. The spicy Uzbekistan lamb samosas ($7) were another standout: rich, spicy lamb and green peas in hot, flaky pastry, served with a chilled sour cream and dill sauce.
The sampler salad ($12) – a vibrantly colored palette of shredded Russian beet, tart Hungarian cucumber, Albanian, and garden salads – was so fresh and perfectly balanced that although I intended to only taste each salad, the entire sampler quickly disappeared. This was a recurring theme throughout the meal; resolutions to "only taste" were abandoned repeatedly.
Despite my enthusiasm for the appetizers, I found I still had plenty of room for the entrées. The Jägerschnitzel ($20), a lightly breaded filet of veal topped with a sautéed mushroom gravy and served with handmade spätzle, put to shame not only every schnitzel I have ever had in Fredericksburg, but all the schnitzels I have made personally in my own kitchen. Crisp and flavorful, the Jägerschnitzel managed to be as light as a tempura. The stuffed cabbage ($16), consisting of two delicate cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned ground pork, served on a bed of Hungarian sauerkraut with bacon and a grilled sausage, was delightfully light as well, the delicate paprika seasoning complementing the subtle flavor of the fresh cabbage.
Althauser is a certified pastry chef, as well, and the array of European gâteaux served at the bistro is remarkable, especially considering that strudel and dessert crepes are also offered. The Mozart Cake ($7), a chocolate delicacy with a chilled pistachio filling and icing, was magnificent, and the walnut butter cake ($6) was, if anything, even better, with the rich, distinctive flavor of black walnuts hidden in the white and creamy filling.
European Bistro is offering truly exquisite fare in a civilized, Old World atmosphere that is almost equally rare. It's now also serving lunch several days a week and taking reservations for a traditional Easter Sunday feast.
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