More smitten with Asia than Europe (and unaware of the now-gone NYC location) I'll admit that
I had never heard of Demel (or Demel's, as Americans like to say, oh, and even literary Czechs) the 226-year-old
Austrian coffeehouse, until it came up a few years ago when the Franks name-dropped
it in describing then new Cafe Pedlar. And because I'm a crank it felt
ludicrous to suggest a Court Street cafe could be anything like a Viennese
stalwart, though unsurprising in its Brooklyn-ness.
And because I have an unshakable grade-schooler devotion
to the color green (do adults care about best friends and favorite colors?) the
most important piece of this Demel discovery was that that there was a place in
the world serving a bright green cake shaped like a dome and that one day it
would have to be eaten by me (and that there are no copyright-free photos
demonstrating this amazing pasty case with the green cake on Flickr–not that
that has ever stopped anyone from using my photos without even an attribution).
Unfortunately, on my last-minute visit to Vienna
(Budapest was already a spur of the moment idea with little research, and I
hadn't realized Vienna was less than three hour away by train) the green cake
was not on display. I don't imagine it's a greatest hit, especially when competing with more famous sachertorte or dobostorte.
a glorious whole confection in the case, there were just a few errant slices
and a dummy cake up on a high shelf in a dark glare-proudcing glass cabinet.
I had heard nightmarish stories about being seated
upstairs after a very long wait in line, having to fight your way back down to
the main entrance to pick out your slices and have them written down for you to
bring up to your waitress (they are all women) and then wait for the sweets to
There was a poorly organized line that was being cut
with no consequence, however, the wait wasn't more than five minutes and there
is a young woman with a selection of cakes in an annex on the second floor (in
the American sense–I can't call something up stairs the first floor) so it's
not that much trouble. There would've been trouble if a green slice was absent,
I could make out the very un-German, casatta, and
still can't determine the name of the browner, cookie-adorned and gianduja-fillled slice I also
picked out (above). Who cares? It's not green.
Ok, casatta? That green slice is totally Italian, or more
specifically Sicilian, and a staple of many NYC bakeries, often as mini
cherry-topped single serves. There's nothing Viennese about the fluffy sweet
ricotta center suspending candied fruit and surrounded by a layer of liqueur-soaked
sponge and a smooth blanket of almondy
marzipan. I traveled blank miles for something I could've gotten in Carroll
Gardens? (Or at Ikea, sort of. Princesstårta has a different flavor profile,
but also is a bulbous torte covered in green marzipan.)
Maybe the casatta has been adopted as an ode to the oxidized
domes of the Hofburg Palace across Michaelerplatz from Demel.
I guess the non-Austrian nature of this cake
shouldn't have been so surprising. Wienerschnitzel, the most iconic dish in
town, is essentially scaloppine. Now that I know the green cake is Italian, I want
the best casatta (green-only) in NYC. Villabate? Where else? Now may be the
rare instance where I regret moving out of an Italian-American neighborhood.
Demel * Kohlmarkt 14, Vienna, Austria
Photo of Demel sign via bestbig&tucker on Flickr