The best decision I ever made was to leave college my junior year to study abroad. While Allentown, Pennsylvania has it’s charms, nothing holds a candle to the adventures that awaited me across the pond. I spend the first half of the year in London eating too many crisps and drinking far too much cider, and the second half of the year in Brisbane, Australia discovering the beauty of a Tim Tam slam. My father is British and I’ve been to London a few times, so I figured I would be able to skip the Tower of London tours and instead use the city as a launching pad to taste test all the amazing eats around Europe. You know, and maybe see a cathedral or something… My time abroad was incredible, and I don’t know if I truly appreciated the ability to spend 4 days in class, hop a weekend flight to Rome before heading back at 5AM on Monday morning to arrive in lecture still wearing my backpack. Then again, I’m happy to leave my days sleeping in cheap hostels behind me.
Before I hopped over to London for classes, my sister and I booked a flight to Salzburg, Vienna, & Prague for ten days. With our trusty Rick Steves: Europe Through the Back Door in hand, we hopped a RyanAir budget flight and headed off on our ‘Parkinson Girls Great Glockenspiel Tour’. I know, we’re so clever. Sidenote: I really did play the glockenspiel. I was a badass kid.
In true Lucy fashion, all I really cared about was what we were going to eat, so we would spend half of our day reading historical facts about the Hapsburgs and the other half eating slices of sacher tortes in the Opera House cafe. I’m nothing if not predictable. We wandered around cobblestone streets stuffing our faces with wienerschnitzel and strudel while diligently reading our Rick Steve’s guide to Shoenbrun Palace and singing “Do-Re-Mi” in the Mirabell Gardens on our Sound Music bus tour. Yes, all of these things really did happen.
I can’t really tell you anything else about Eastern European history, but I can tell you that the closest thing you’re going to get to any of the incredible food we ate is over at 20th Century Cafe. Michelle Polzine is a veteran of the San Francisco pastry scene, and her reimagined Viennese pastry shop is pure bliss. Delicate details like the elegantly mismatched antique plates and cups, the art deco light fixtures and beautiful deep velvet bench that I want to melt into while I’m sipping my coffee. Lounging in 20th Century Cafe make me feel like I’m back on the cobblestones streets of Vienna watching the people walk by.
I love the potato knishes, bagels, and other cookies and tortes, but the star of the show is her incredible Russian honey cake. Layers of light, moist honey cake with delicate honey cream that are both visually stunning and incredibly delicious. Not overly sweet, this beautiful cake is worth. every. calorie.
So while I won’t be backpacking around Europe anytime soon, you can find me daydreaming of Europe while staring out the window at 20th Century Cafe. Head over to Hayes Valley and let me know what you think!