all photos by Jay or Bierbeisl
Chef points to one of Jenny Okun's remarkable photographic murals.
"Why did you reopen downtown in this Spring Street Arcade?" I asked the tall (6'8") Austrian chef, Bernhard Mairinger, as I busily wolfed down a trio of sausages. He laughed and said, "Do you have any idea of what is happening in downtown Los Angeles?" He pointed to the Wall Street Journal I was carrying and showed me a glossy insert in it for a six-block residential and retail development next to L.A. Live and Staples. "That huge development is within walking distance of us here," he said. "The entire downtown scene is exploding, and there are more art galleries and residences and new stores than you can imagine." I looked at the crowd walking through the historic, block-long arcade, from Broadway to Spring, and got it. I saw a trio of my bankers from City National Bank wolfing down Austrian sandwiches and realized that they, too, could walk here from their headquarters' building a short distance away. You may recall that we wrote a rave review of his Bierbeisl restaurant when it opened in the heart of Beverly Hills in 2012. It had been a very attractive small storefront, and I knew that it quickly had outgrown its space. My friend Jenny Okun, the famed architectural photographer and one of his prime backers, had told me that they were looking at a much larger space in Westwood but it had fallen through, so when Bernhard spotted this newly-renovated space in this unique, 1920's arcade, he realized its potential and grabbed it. BierBeisl Imbiss & Bakery is located a 541 South Spring Street, in the Spring Arcade Building, on the west side of Spring (just below Olive and Main, between 5th and 6th Streets (213-935-8035), website www.bierbeisl-imbiss.com. Open every day from 8 am to 2 am, it also features a fabulous bakery....and they told me that they had brought over two of Austria's premier bakers to fashion its bread, cakes and pastries. Did you know that Austria introduced coffee to Europe after bags of coffee were left behind by the retreating Turkish army after the Battle of Vienna in 1683? And the croissant was invented in Vienna at that time. The one here is a wonder, much like the best French. Jenny Okun has created large-scale architectural art works celebrating the renovation of downtown for display in the arcade's walkway.
A selection of the sausages which are available here.
Bernhard Mairinger is the Chef/Owner of this Austrian wonder.
I was enchanted by the look of the place, using natural woods - beams form arches across the ceiling reminiscent of Austrian wine cellars, tabletops were made from wood sourced from an old gymnasium court found in the downtown LA YMCA. Shelves display baskets filled with the unique breads and baked goods (taste the terrific spelt loaf), while stained cement floors of exposed brick meet stainless steel counters. Guests enter and receive a numbered wooden tray designed by the chef and made in his hometown. Seating for the 55 guests inside and out include a traditional stammisch or regular's table. A long way from Patina, where I first met Bernhard when he came there as sous chef.
This is he Schnitzel sandwich,so delicious.
As we talked, I was eating a Käsekrainer sausage ($9), a Swiss cheese-infused pork and beef sausage, a tubular light and peppery wonder similar to a 'Polish' sausage. Served with a dab of tarragon mustard and shreds of horseradish. The potato salad is is also different, with a touch of vinegar. A mainstay of Austrian cooking is the Schnitzel ($12), made here either with turkey or pork. (They take the boneless meat and top it with a sheet of waxed paper, then pound it with a mallet escalope-style, coat it with bread crumbs and fry it until it's golden. Put on a house-made pretzel roll, it is incomparable. You can get a sampler of 3 sausages for a remarkable $15. There's a regular bratwurst called a Nurnberger (2 pieces for $8) and a Turkey Bratwurst ($7). My favorite is the Weisswurst (2 pieces for $11), a mild sausage slowly simmered in milk. New to me was the Debreziner (2 pieces for $9), a spicy, course sausage with cayenne pepper and paprika made with pork and beef. Unusual is the Hungarian Andouille ($8), the European version of a New Orleans favorite spiced with paprika and chili. Sides are $5 each and I suggest that you go for the Speck (a cabbage salad) and the Potato Salad, as well as Curry Fries and Shoestring Fries. New to the menu is Bernhard's special burger, the BierBeisl Borger ($13), one of the most amazing in memory.... on a delicious house-made bun, it is a 50-50 beef and pork mix with a fried egg, tomato confit ketchup and peppers. Other sandwiches include: Leberkas' Semmerl, ($6, with an egg for another $2) veal loaf, and Bratl ($12) crispy pork belly. I always begin my meals here with a cup of their Beef Bouillon) $5/7), a rich clear broth served with his 'fritatten,' herb-pancake noodles.
The Sacher Torte is he signature dessert, but there are dozens of wondrous treats.
But let us not forget that the bakery next door is being helmed by one of the finest bakers in the world, and I judge him by his Sacher Torte, the legendary dessert from Vienna served in every coffee shop (konditorei) in the city. Bernhard told me that his recipe is from Salzburg, not far from the main city. I recounted to him my many adventures eating it where it originated in the Hotel Sacher. A chocolate cake with homemade apricot jam, always served with a generous bowl of Schlag, whipped cream...often with a touch of vanilla. Oh, my, it is addictively delicious. Other desserts are also featured: Mohr im Hemd, with warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream, or the Poppyseed Parfait, with a crispy chocolate tuille and raspberries. Even the Creamy Semolina Pudding will astonish you, with its white chocolate tangerine, and toasted almonds. Of course, you must also end with the Apfelstrudel, apple strudel, layers of thin pastry filled with shreds of apple, usually with cinnamon and raisins. I asked for it with the homemade vanilla ice cream. One of the best I have ever eaten, and I spent much of my youth in Vienna eating schlage and schnitzel.
Richard Sparks, Jenny's librettist and opera director husband, alerted me to the many great beers on tap, 9 in all, and I saw their 40-bottle wine list, small but satisfying. Interestingly, all wines are one price ($39 for whites, $42 for reds).
Astonishing food from an unexpected new downtown source...how fabulous that we find here dishes that would do justice to a three-star restaurant in any city in the world.
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