Vienna Inn

American, Burgers, Fast Food
$$$$ ($14 and under)
Vienna Inn photo
(Shamus Ian Fatzinger)

Editorial Review

2010 Spring Dining Guide

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 23, 2010

The low-slung setting looks like the dive of a chowhound's dreams. Ancient booths? Check. Pinball machines in the corner and sports trophies hugging the wood-paneled walls? You bet. Johnny Cash alternates with Michael Jackson on the soundtrack, and if you want breakfast for lunch or dinner, you can get it (just help yourself to your own coffee and juice). The vibe is casual, with lots of baseball caps and families in the mix; kids get paper and crayons, but I've seen adults color while they wait for meals, too. Every table seems to know every other table, and the listing of mostly fried appetizers and sandwiches is so familiar to most of the crowd that the T-shirted servers welcome folks with, "Do you want to see a menu?" I have something of a soft spot for this 50-year-old eatery, which was the scene for one of my earliest food stories, in 1986. Back then, it was in the hands of the Abraham family and a fine young chef, Philip Abraham, who cared enough to make barbecued pork from fresh-roasted ham and swapped real peppers for chili powder in the chili recipe he inherited. "I want you to think it's somebody's mom cooking back here," the chef told me. His family sold the joint a decade ago, and although the Vienna Inn remains a hit with locals, I give it higher marks for its nostalgia-inducing ambiance than for the rushed service and much of what comes from behind the swinging doors. The vapid "world famous" chili burying the indifferent boiled hot dogs is sheer hyperbole, for instance, and though the hamburger sports a nice crust, no one asks how we want it cooked. The result is a compact patty that arrives well-done (but not done well). As for breakfast, happily there's as much chopped sausage as scrambled egg in an order of salami and eggs, but the plate's home fries are not the least bit crisp. Is it too much to expect better when the combo is a mere $4.39? Chipped beef on toast is gray and industrial-tasting, nothing like the stuff of my Midwestern youth. The single best thing on the menu might be the Vienna Inn's buffalo shrimp: tender seafood cloaked in a teasing red sauce and flanked with celery and carrot sticks. Too bad it doesn't keep better company.