In his more than five years at Cafe Tirolo, former Tiberio chef (and native Austrian) Vic Kreidl and his wife and daughter turned a home-size but bighearted luncheonette kitchen into a neighborhood star with a mostly Italian menu of remarkably affordable, fresh-tasting and unfussy dishes that lighted up the Ballston restaurant strip with its warmth. Last year, when he decided to retire, Kreidl did pretty much what he had done a few years before at Alexandria's Cafe Monti: He worked with his employees until they had mastered the menu and then sold the place to them. One of Tirolo's new owners is Sarah Chung, whose cooking experience was fairly limited but who spent eight months working directly with Kreidl in preparation for the turnover.
The menu, and the whiteboard of nightly specials, is the same and, even better, so are the prices. Two old favorites are particularly good to go home to: baked asparagus under Parmesan (ask for "light butter" because you really don't need it) and rich ripe avocado topped with lump crabmeat. The same big, shaved-stem (such a welcome detail) and tender asparagus can be had chilled with vinaigrette. The lasagna, especially the vegetarian version, remains a prize, and although one night's Wiener schnitzel was a little overdone (a regular customer claims that that is unusual), the paprika sauce was very good: tangier than the goulash sauce, in fact, and could have been substituted. The fresh spaetzle was generous, though a pinch more salt would suit it. And from across the counter, the fresh scent of grilled salmon and blooming clams was frankly alluring.
The only disappointment is that Tirolo is open only four nights (five days) a week. On the other hand, the staff is unusually user-friendly, often allowing latecomers to sneak in past closing time and clutch their goodies as carryout.
--Eve Zibart (March 9, 2007)