On warm days, tables are set away from the main building on a narrow path leading to a row of vines above a precipitous slope that plunges to a gentle valley. Here you are close enough to see activity in the valley but far enough away that it looks like a happy Bruegel painting. During lunch, for example, you might watch a toy-sized tractor plow a small field, while tiny farmer families go about their daily chores.
The menu is written on a blackboard leaning against one of the vine stocks. On a hot day in July, gusts of warm wind rose up from the valley and repeatedly knocked the menu over, which caused the waitress or a helpful guest to trundle over and prop it up again.
Feeling a bit rustic, I followed a delicious, creamy wine soup spiced with cinnamon and orange peel (€2.9) with excellent Hausulz, boiled beef served cold in aspic with thin onion slices, enormous kidney beans and a drizzling of pumpkin seed oil (€4.7).
Others that day chose tasty slices of roast beef with pan-fried potatoes and neon-green creamed spinach (€12), or enormous portions of crispy-fried but greaseless chicken served with fresh salad (€12.2).
The Harkamp's also produce an excellent white wine that has a deservedly high reputation in the region.
Remarkably, it's all done without the slightest bit of pomp or pretension.
Contact: Hotel Harkamp Flamberg 46, St. Nikolai i. S., tel. +43/03185/2280. Closed Tues.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 16/20
This is the region's best option for formal, multi-course meals that occupy an entire evening. The restaurant is popular and reservations are necessary.
The main dining room is decorated in a modern rustic style with tall chairs of wood and woven wicker. Café tables are covered in creamy white linen. The enclosed balcony is the best place to sit; on pleasant days the windows can be opened to take in the breeze.
Guests dine a la carte or from a multicourse Stryian menu or a special menu of varying themes (during my visit it was an array of Italian dishes). They range in price from about €28 to 31 for seven-course meals.
There is also a less-formal bistro with an open kitchen for culinary entertainment and a terrace for enjoying the sun. Main courses here start around €7.2. A light lunch of creamy pumpkin soup sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds (€3.25), followed by a pleasingly al dente risotto (€8.66) with meaty Portabella mushrooms, all dusted with grated Parmesan cheese, was inexpensive and delicious.
The restaurant is open Tues.-Sat. 6pm-midnight (kitchen open to 9pm); bistro open Wed.-Mon. 11:30am-10pm (kitchen to 6 pm). See above for contact info.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 15/20
Weingut Erich & Walter Polz
Most wineries in the region also run small Buschenschank, elaborate stands serving their own wine and smoked meats. Polz stands out because of its excellent wines and its unforgettable location on the steep slope of a narrow, secluded valley with vineyards rising up sharply on all sides.
I sat at a long table on the shady porch with the late summer sun glistening on the vines. My cool glass of the Polz brothers' celebrated Grassitzberger Morillon (a Chardonnay from the best part of the vineyard for a mere €2.5) was accompanied by a large slab of fresh-baked brown bread piled high with shavings of tender smoked ham (€1.8).
Hungrier guests might try the mixed platter of meats and cheese, which makes an excellent light lunch at €5. During my visit, a group of celebrants enjoyed a similar meal around a large oil press that had been converted into a table. It was all so pleasant that even at the time I was plotting my return.
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 16/20
The Kogelberg would probably rate much higher if the other places reviewed here hadn't been so very good.
The restaurant took a bit of finding. The easiest way to get there from Leibnitz or Schloss Seggau is to follow the signs for either the Kogelberg (a common name for a little round mountain) or the Sausaler Weinstrasse and then look for the signs leading to the restaurant.
The Winzerhaus clings to the quiet side of the Kogelberg overlooking the plain that extends to the hills crowding the border. On yet another warm afternoon under a cool vine arbor, I started with a smooth, chilled gooseliver-and-partridge terrine with blood-orange marmalade (€11.5). Other choices included consommé with sliced crêpes (€2.7) and slices of venison and Portabella mushrooms in aspic (€5.8).
The main course was mildly spicy Hungarian peppers stuffed with meat and rice, served in a large bowl with a sweet sauce of cream and pureed tomatoes and accompanied by starchy boiled potatoes. Other options included the traditional Austrian boiled beef dish, Tafelspitz, served with spinach, boiled potatoes and applesauce spiked with shaved horseradish (€12.7), or fried Portabella mushrooms with tartar sauce (€12), or perhaps a venison ragout with sliced bread dumplings and a dollop of cranberry sauce (€12).
The wine list concentrated on local offerings, so I settled on a glass of Morillon from the respected Gross winery nearby.
Though not stellar, the service had a formal congeniality.
Contact: Winzerhaus Kogelberg, Kogelberg 10-11, Kaindorf an der Sulm, A-8430, tel +43/03452/83451, open Wed.-Sat. noon-11pm, Sun. noon-6pm
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 16/20
On a trip of memorable meals, this was a favorite. The friendly, family atmosphere was instantly endearing, the food excellent and inexpensive, and the setting stunning.