Let’s begin our journey in Vienna, Austria, a city of rich, extravagant traditions, historic elegance and a proud, unbending dedication to do things the old-fashioned way. To me, it’s one of those fascinating cities that exudes a feeling of elite pretension and pompousness, yet without exclusion.
It’s as if once you’re in Vienna, you’re “in.”
Many of my future missions will involve trying to rediscover the imperial flavors of Vienna — particularly when it comes to their exalted confectionery traditions (which includes pastries, cakes, sweets, marzipan and candy) and that perfect Weinerschnitzel — but my first was entirely accidental, and far more humble in flavor. I’m talking about the kaiser roll.
The ubiquitous sesame- or poppy-seeded hard deli rolls, so beloved by Long Islanders on their egg sandwiches, are little thought of until one leaves the region. It’s not really spoken of until bacon, egg and cheese enter the picture, in which case, lively discourse and strong opinions break friends into ranks at war in defense of the very best rendition of this wholly comforting breakfast classic. In fact, an article written by John H. Delaney for Edible Long Island about this simple sandwich has garnered some of the most spirited conversations on this site; the New York Times even weighed in from the city.
Officially approved by their Federal Ministry of Agriculture, this hard roll, or semmel‘s history dates back to 1760, but its modern name can be attributed to one particular kaiser, Emperor Franz Joseph I.
It’s so simple, so basic, and yet so beautiful. Swirled around a dipped center, with a crust that seems to bloom like a pinwheel, this humble bread is taken for granted on Long Island. This simple roll is light as a feather with a crust that doesn’t shatter unless toasted and has a satisfying give as you bite through air to reach the slightly sweet, slightly doughy, moist crumb. It happily takes on heavy toppings and plenty of dressing; its resilient outer layer maintain its charming shape and perfect size while the middle wraps around the fillings — hugging it like memory foam — all of which make it an ideal vehicle for deli traditions. Even just a smear of butter is delightful on this bread, which is cheap and accessible at every 7-Eleven, on every street corner; the richness of the butter blends easily with the subtle sweetness of the dough.
In fact, it’s often served like this in Austria, its birthplace. We’re used to poppy and sesame seeds, but in its native land, pumpkin kernels, linseed or sunflower seeds dot the rolls. Jam accompanies them with breakfast, along with an excellent cup of Weiner Melange, a decadent milky espresso with whipped cream or even egg yolk.
I sometimes replicate the experience of sitting on a cobblestoned sidewalk leisurely enjoying the dawn as fingers of sunlight trail down my head to my heart, in the center of that city, with a steaming latte, some apricot jelly and a freshly-buttered kaiser roll from one of my favorite places, Best Market. From an iron deck chair on a spring day, it’s easy to close your eyes and remember a different kind of birdsong on the breeze near the imperial palaces Hofburg and Schonbrunn. And even better, it’s a lot cheaper here. At a euro per piece (bread on the table is not complimentary, and is charged by the piece, as I learned five euros later on my first night) and at least seven per coffee, a simple taste of Vienna is pretty darn close to authentic for less than $4 here.
The rolls are best manufactured by Modern Italian Bakery/Modern Baked Products in a nondescript Oakdale warehouse/factory. This version is perhaps most common on our sandbar, but also the closest to the Viennese I’ve ever had anywhere. Your local Best Market has them delivered daily. Lakewood Bakery‘s version has a a softer crust with a cornmeal dusting to make it their own. You can find these at Handy Pantries across Long Island.
For the full list of Su-Jit’s authentic eats, click here.