Main Course

Austrian Cuisine to Rule with an Imbiss in L.A.

What is an imbiss? Brendan learns exactly that when he gets a lesson on Austrian food culture from BierBeisl Imbiss chef Bernhard Mairinger.

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This week, Brendan sampled some Austrian food, which means, yes, sausages and other tasty things, but he didn’t eat them at a restaurant. Instead, he visited an “imbiss” in Los Angeles. What is an “imbiss”? It’s precisely the question posed to Austrian chef Bernhard Mairinger when Brendan met him at his brand new eatery downtown called BierBeisl Imbiss.

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Bernhard Mairinger: An imbiss is usually, like if you would go to Austria, and you ask for an imbiss, you would be shocked where they’re sending you. It’s just, you know, a window somewhere in a train station, where it’s a little stand in the middle of nowhere. It is a little shack, almost, that just serves a handful of dishes, but [are] those usually from local butchers and high quality with some good bread and rolls, and then a couple canned beers and some sodas, and that’s pretty much it.

A look at BierBeisl Imibiss' pastry selection.
A look at BierBeisl Imibiss’ pastry selection.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did you grow up with imbisses nearby? Is there one you had in mind when you were thinking about your restaurant?

Bernhard Mairinger: Oh, definitely. I mean, it’s something… we would, back then, my dad would take us to a soccer game in Salzburg, which is 30 minutes away, and my favorite soccer club is there. So, we would basically end up in the Getreidegasse, which is like the Rodeo Drive of Salzburg. You know, it’s all posh, like even McDonald’s has a gold “M” hanging outside. It’s really weird.

And so, all the sudden, around lunchtime, you see a big line coming out and ending in the middle of nowhere, just a little side alley, and then you see one of those windows, and all they do is the bosna, which is sort of like a very crisp and light white roll. And then, it’s just ketchup, mustard, you have a sausage, and then, it has raw shaved onions on top, and a little bit of curry powder. And so just all the flavors together, it’s incredible.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, even in this fancy place, they want to get this kind of curry sausage at a local imbuss.

Bernhard Mairinger: Correct. It doesn’t matter. Anybody coming out of the Prada store, or eating [at a] two Michelin star just five minutes from there, is still having sandwiches like that, and I love it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, well, let’s turn to some of the food here. So, tell me what we have, what we’re looking at.

Bernhard Mairinger: So, this is the bosna here. As I said, you see it’s a very light and fluffy white bun. It’s 100 percent wheat, but it’s organic wheat. It’s very light, and it’s just to accommodate whatever flavors you’ll find in the sausage, and then you’ll realize that little bit of bread with the ketchup and the mustard, and then the onions giving it that spice, and then finishing sort of with that complex curry taste. It’s awesome.

Photo Credit: BierBeisl Imbiss
BierBeisl Imbiss’ Bosna sandwich.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, I’m going to try it. Hold on [tastes food]. Mmm, there’s a nice snap on the sausage link. What’s the next thing you’re going to share with me?

Bernhard Mairinger: It’s the veal loaf.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, a veal loaf, explain what this is.

Bernhard Mairinger: It’s very similar to… so when you make the wurst for some of the sausages, wurst meaning the brats, the stuffing of the sausage.

Brendan Francis Newnam: OK, that’s like, the meat, the ground-up meat, and spices and breading.

Bernhard Mairinger: Yeah, and so, what this is is basically just baked wurst.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, so instead of putting it inside a casing, you’re just baking it on its own.

Bernhard Mairinger: Yes, correct.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Are there olives in here?

Bernhard Mairinger: This is the spicy one, so we add jalapeno with Thai chili, and we add bell peppers. We actually just take the veal loaf wurst from the butcher, and then we finish it here.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Now, that’s a little California influence.

Bernhard Mairinger: Exactly.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Because probably not a lot of Thai peppers hanging around veal loaf in Salzburg.

Bernhard Mairinger: No.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And the bun is…

Bernhard Mairinger: It’s a semmerl. So, a semmerl is–

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s like the classic, almost like a little kaiser roll?

Bernhard Mairinger: Exactly, it’s like an Austrian kaiser roll that’s very popular. And every Austrian you’ll meet in L.A. will be like, “Finally, there’s a semmerl in [L.A.]!”

Leberkas Veal loaf on semmerl rolll from Bier Beisl Imbiss.
Leberkas Veal loaf on semmerl roll from Bier Beisl Imbiss.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, let me take a bite here [eats food]. I like that a lot.

Bernhard Mairinger: Just eat those with those pepperoncini peppers.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They have pepperoncinis in Austria?

Bernhard Mairinger: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow!

Bernhard Mairinger: And we basically serve three different versions. We serve one that’s infused with Swiss cheese because everything infused with cheese tastes good.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.

Bernhard Mairinger: And then we serve the plain, which is just straight veal loaf.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Why do Austrians love meat so much?

Bernhard Mairinger: Because it’s delicious [laughs].

Brendan Francis Newnam: And I guess they were just really good at raising cattle and stuff?

Bernhard Mairinger: Yeah, I mean, you know…

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re a landlocked country…

Bernhard Mairinger: The quality… exactly, our agriculture is one of the things we’re very proud of.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is there a difference between Austrian and German cuisine?

Bernhard Mairinger: Oh, hell yeah!

Brendan Francis Newnam: You said that quickly. All right, so what are some of the differences?

Bernhard Mairinger: I don’t want to offend anyone, but I always say, “Austrian cuisine is like German cuisine, just not boring.”

Chef Bernhard Mairinger stands in front of the BierBeisl Imbiss sign
Chef Bernhard Mairinger confidently points to the BierBeisl Imbiss sign in L.A.

Brendan Francis Newnam: What do you mean by that?

Bernhard Mairinger: No, we definitely, you know, having been such a big empire back then, Habsburg empire, and then conquered by the Turks, you know, we’ve been through a bit. So, all those little adventures and incidents back in history left us a piece.

When the Turks came, we got the coffee, and that was Vienna. So, they conquered Vienna, and then Eastern European countries, part of Croatia and Poland…

Brendan Francis Newnam: Slovenia and Hungary…

Bernhard Mairinger: It’s all connected. We got all that influence from them, which also means spices like the curry, paprika, cinnamon and all that stuff, which you won’t find in Austria, but are–

Brendan Francis Newnam: Definitely part of your food culture.

Bernhard Mairinger: Yeah. So, it’s funny when everybody’s always like, “Well, Austrian cuisine, you guys only have cabbage and meat.” I’m like, “We have anything and everything because there’s no restriction!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. Well, you once ruled a big part of the world, and you were overrun by some of it.

Bernhard Mairinger: Rule it again!