Edi & The Wolf: No Strangers Here

On a blustering rainy evening in the beginning of June when complaints of how it's "supposed" to be summer abound, a trek to Alphabet City may not seem worth the haul. For those who are willing to schlep to Avenue C and Sixth Street, an overgrown basket of vines marks the entrance to a dark, toasty restaurant perfect for taking shelter from the storm. Signless and barely visible behind shabby-chic wood paneling, the door beneath a tin roof serves as a portal to the gut- and soul-satisfying tavern that serves NYC-friendly spins on Austrian staples: Edi and the Wolf—a downtown hideout from Austrian expats Edi Fauneder and business partner Wolfgang Ban; the team behind Midtown's upscale "restaurant and weinbar" Seäsonal.

Step inside and a dimly lit room packed with guests and servers in lively spirits will greet you with a refreshing sense of familiarity rarely found dining out in New York City. The soundtrack helps: a variety of classics including "Here Comes the Sun", "Sweet Jane", and later in the evening, Biz Markie's "Just a Friend." On any given night it is difficult to get a table—clustered between odd hanging ropes, a boot nonchalantly stuffed with floral stems, and more crowded, overgrown décor under a wood-paneled ceiling bound by exposed brick walls—the space is usually filled with mostly ABC locals and repeat diners. If a private table is unavailable, avoid the communal one (charming in spirit, annoying in actuality) and take a seat at the oxidized, ring-stained copper bar. On an evening in the summertime, if you're lucky, there may be a free seat in the backyard garden.

Despite the coverage and praise Fauneder and Ban have received for The Third Man—their Viennese cocktail bar close enough to crawl to from Edi—stick with wine here, there are plenty of glasses of Austrian Weiss to choose from. Like everyone else who works there, the bartender became a welcoming acquaintance as soon as I sat down. As the night went on he was kind and exuberant enough to introduce us to the house's jalapeño-infused tequila and the sweet-medicinal German digestif bitter, Underberg—a secret concoction of 43 herbs and spices that's essentially a more authentic Jäger.

The menu is divided into share plates and "Schnitzel & Co.", entrée-sized portions, but the vibe encourages sharing all plates. Taking the bartender's recommendation we ordered the Bouchot Mussels ($15) simmered in Hefeweizen with Bacon, Paprika Jam, and Spring Garlic, and thanked him for his advice. The mussels themselves were very decent, but the underlying broth mopped up with infinite (if you want it) slabs of toast had us leaning back in our chairs, eyes closed in silent satisfaction. The heart-warming Spätzle ($20) is creamier than most, punctuated with peppery arugula and crispy onions. The Heritage Pork Wiener Schnitzel ($21, veal also available), a stiff, pounded, breaded and golden-fried cutlet almost put us over the edge, but is saved by accompanying lingonberry jam and cucumber salad. The schnitzel and jam was an addictive crunchy meat and sweet-tart pairing, while the cucumber salad is better suited to eat afterward in recovery from the plates' density. On the side we ordered a bowl of brussel sprouts ($8), braised with bacon, mustard vinaigrette, and pickled cranberry; another irresistible flavor combination of bittersweet, savory and spicy. The agreed-upon favorite was a smooth and creamy cheddar bratwurst made in house just the day before—served on a fat wheat bun, topped with crispy onions, dressed with a cucumber relish and beer mustard concocted with caraway and pickled ramps that left us swooning. Rather than order dessert, a plate of acidic and spicy house-pickled vegetables ($5) was a suitable ending to round out our meal.

With Austrian-inspired cuisine, the density characteristic of the fare is unavoidable. Conscious of this, the plates at Edi all have something sweet, spicy, acidic or green to cut through the fatty savor of Germanic cuisine. After dinner we took a moment to chat with Chef de Cuisine Michael Kollarik, who emphasized that while the aforementioned Austrian staples, as well as customer favorites—like the ever-changing seasonal Flatbread ($14) and Lamb Papardelle ($23)—stay on the menu, their plates vary frequently depending on seasonality. He prides himself on buying what he can from Union Square Greenmarket, including the line-caught Block Island Tile Fish ($25) currently on the menu, which he described as similar in taste and texture to a Florida Snapper. Though he doesn't plan on lightening up the menu too much as the summer progresses, Chef Kollarik told me the kitchen's refrain that night had been: "Life is like food, it's all about balance." Between substantial cuisine and a lighthearted atmosphere Edi and the Wolf does indeed strike a delicate balance. Walking in a wet rat and out with a pleasantly plump protruding stomach like a lead musket ball, Edi and the Wolf remains distinct among New York restaurants because it is a neighborhood haunt where no one is ever made to feel like a stranger. From comfortably casual service to a gut and soul-satisfying menu—Austrian food is the perfect pick-me-up (even if it weighs you down) on a dark and stormy night.