Ever since a long-ago family vacation to Vienna, I’ve wondered about schnitzel.
Why take something as expensive and bland as a scant slab of veal and pound it even thinner, drown it in breadcrumbs and fry it?
At Schnitzel & Things, a small, stylish new restaurant and carryout on Third Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets, the answer is to give the same treatment to chicken, pork, cod and eggplant as well.
The sandwiches are presented on first-rate bread, and they look great and happen to be generously sized. The platters are laid out nicely, freshly prepared and plenty filling. But not surprisingly, the veal, chicken and pork schnitzels taste pretty much alike; of the five, the cod and the eggplant have the most flavor. Yet the good news is that Schnitzel & Things offers such enticing toppings and side dishes that the restaurant turns out to be a welcoming place to grab lunch that’s a bit out of the ordinary.
The restaurant, which began as a food truck, is organized like a cafeteria but is unusual in that its staff is extremely polite and helpful. A seating area in the back, for those not bent on takeout, is quiet and even relaxing amid the Midtown fray.
At Schnitzel & Things, you must first decide whether you want a sandwich ($8.50 to $9.95) or a platter ($9.95 to $11.95), and then whether you want veal, chicken, pork, cod or eggplant. Bratwurst is also on the menu, as are grilled ginger chicken and a “schnitz burger with cheese” (beef, deep-fried), each available in sandwich or platter format, at $6.50 to $9.95.
Next is the fun part: choosing condiments and, if you order a platter, your two side dishes. Both the sides and condiments reveal a creative and colorful hand at work; above all, the sides are packed with interesting flavors.
Skip the schnitzel?
Among the half-dozen condiments, our favorites were a zingy Thai-derived Sriracha mayo; a relish of ginger, scallion and garlic; and a savory cranberry compote. For an extra 50 cents, you can pick toppings of grilled peppers, onions, zucchini or eggplant.
The sides that won our hearts were a rich, garlicky Austrian potato salad with diced red onion; a contrasting combo of sweet beets and tangy feta cheese; a cucumber salad spiked with a mild vinaigrette; and a hearty braised sauerkraut flecked with carrot. The French fries and sweet-potato fries are made to order and definitely worth the few minutes’ wait. For $7.95, you can skip the schnitzel and simply choose a sampler of four different side dishes, a meal on its own for most appetites.
Other pleasant surprises: Schnitzel & Things provides heavy-duty plastic flatware, serves its food in paper-based rather than polystyrene packaging and sells Samuel Adams drafts for $6 and Stiegl, an Austrian beer, in bottles for $5.
Schnitzel & Things is open Monday through Friday, 11 am to 9 pm, and Saturdays from noon to 9 pm. It is located at 723 Third Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets. (212) 905-0000.
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.
I am an Austrian working in NY and unfortunately have to say that Schnitzel&things has very little to do with actual Austrian (fast)food. Interestingly enough, it’s just the sides and condiments that I believe are the weak points. In Austria you get Schnitzelsemmel (=sandwich) rather with sauces, e.g. garlic or cocktail. It hardly ever comes with anything else than that, except maybe a leaf of lettuce. Only if you eat the Schnitzel on a plate it will come with lingonberry compote (sorry, no cranberries!). Lacking sauces at the restaurant in question, I usually go for a custom-built Italian style “cottoleto”, comprising nothing but a chicken schnitzel and tomatoe in a bun. The guy behind the counter routinely gives me a strange look and can’t believe I don’t want to drown my sandwich with some condiment. Anyways, as nearly all foreign food gets americanized to some degree, I yield and am happy that at least I can get a decent Schnitzel.