For those who have traveled to Europe and fallen in love with the cafe culture, there is no need to buy a plane ticket to savor the rich coffee, lighter-than-air pastries, and the calm quiet of a sidewalk cafe. Instead visit Cafe Vienna, located in the site of the former Piccadilly shop on Nassau Street, near St. Paul’s Church.
The crisp, clean, modernist atmosphere, punctuated by a vibrant green wall and avant garde floral arrangements, captures the sense of the old world coffee houses with their relaxed sense of space. Owner and hostess Anita Waldenberger strives to recreate the essence of the cafes that she and her father frequented on weekends in Vienna. Her aim is to offer the same highest quality pastries and distinctively rich coffee that she knew well as a child.
She comes by her sense of hospitality and love of quality not only from the trips to the cafes with her father, a ceramic tile designer, but also from her mother, the head cook and housekeeper for an Italian count. Working closely over many months with a German pastry chef, Waldenberger has adapted family recipes to American cooking specifications without sacrificing the unique taste associated with European treats. Nothing has preservatives in it. Her apple strudel ($5.25) is feather light and subtly sweet with the apples the dominant taste. The coffee is a special blend, smooth and robust, not harshly over-roasted or bitter as many American coffee houses push. In fact, many customers prefer it black, something they never do elsewhere.
A large coffee with milk on the side is $3.75 and a biscuit accompanies your order, even on take-out. Espresso ($3.25/$3.95), Cappuccino ($4.25), and Milchkaffee (Cafe Latte) are offered along with Cafe Mocha (hot chocolate with a shot of espresso) and Viennese Hot Chocolate ($4.50 and $4.75 respectively). Tea comes in a single-person china pot with matching cup ($3.50), and everything is served on elegant beaten silver trays.
The paved space in front of the shop has five tables for outside relaxation and people watching. A shady awning over the patio offers shelter from summer sun and occasional showers. Inside there are five tall cafe tables and spaces along a counter, dangerously located near the display of Back Forest Cake with cherry filling ($5.75) and the Marzipan Cake — three tiers of butter cream and almond paste ($6.25). These temptations can be ordered as whole cakes with 48 hours’ notice. In addition, light sandwiches of ham and cheese served on either a croissant or baguette are available, primarily as a morning pick-me-up ($7). Chilled coffee with vanilla ice cream will be a cool addition as summer comes ($5.75). Vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate ice cream is always available (three scoops for $5.25). Be sure to ask for a loyalty card for free coffee or espresso.
Waldenberger came to the states in the 1970s to learn English and first saw Princeton in 2002 on a visit with her husband, a former U.S. Navy officer and a material analyst for PSE&G. The town captured her heart because it reminded her of home, and she declared they would live here one day. That day came in 2004, and now, at the urging of family, she brings a bit of her old home town to her new.
Drawing on her experience in the hospitality industry at a five star hotel in Europe, she offers unhurried refinement, focusing on the highest level of service for guests. The times I have been there she was a constant presence, overseeing that everything was “just so.” Many patrons are already regulars, especially those from Europe who crave a taste of home. A journalist from Australia commented that the cafe is an embassy — given the international clientele.
Its location on the upper end of Nassau Street makes it the perfect spot to relax after a promenade of shops, a stop before church, or for a quiet moment before the day begins. Spring and summer evenings present ample reasons to wander up the street to sit with friends and watch the world go by. Cafe Vienna will be an inviting spot all year long, just as the cafes are in the Old World. It is a place to unwind, savor your coffee, and perhaps channel your inner philosopher. Kaffee und Kafka, perfect for Princeton.
Cafe Vienna, 200 Nassau Street, Princeton. 609-924-5100. Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. www.cafeviennaprinceton.com