Cafes and Konditorei are an important Viennese tradition. They have been important contributors to the Wienerkultur. Perhaps their importance has diminished to the point of 'quaintness', like swans in a pond, but to a certain group of Viennese and tourists alike, they remain a welcome oasis of Gemütlichkeit. For me, the quality of the pastries is the prime reason for my visit, followed by the ambiance.
I visited Vienna in March, when the density of fellow-tourists in the cafes is mild. Few would take issue with the statement that the average Viennese pastry is vastly superior to the average pastry found in U.S. pastry shops.
Nevertheless, one grows weary of averages, no matter where they occur. On this recent visit, I sampled an immoderate amount of pastry from Aida, Demel, Diglas, Oberlaa, Sacher, Landtman, Neko, Sluka.
The trouble with fame is that one is 'loved to death'. In order to satisfy every day the hundreds of visitors, and in some cases the hundreds of mail-orders, small batch artisanal baking, with each batch sampled by the baker, must give way to an industrialized, large-scale production that puts quality control (read "sameness") and reliability (read "industrial supply") on the forefront of their business plan.
I am constantly searching for that elusive crackjack-talented grandmother chef who would love nothing more than to sit this chowhound down at her table and feed him unto death. What comes close to this ideal is small-batch chefs or bakers who source their quality ingredients from relatively small-batch farmers, dairymen and conscientious purveyors. By 'small-batch' I mean food volume that can be monitored by and receive the reputation of one uncompromising person.
For these reasons, I would never order a boxed Sacher Torte sent to me. I even found that I do not appreciate Sacher Torte; it is too dry for my taste, no matter where I tried it. In discussing this with the owner of Konditorei Sluka, he said that classic Sacher Torte is exactly this way, like it or not. By comparison, K. Sluka's fudge torte is a wonderful moist and chocolatey torte, not at all dense and gummy as the name would imply.
'Eating artisanally' for quality also means that we must restrict ourselves to food in season and not desire everything at all times of year.
This may be why Apfelstrudel fell flat on its face in every single place I visited. The pastry layer was passingly good but the filling, the star of the show, was lacking: March in Austria may be a poor time and place for apples. In comparison, the best apple strudel that I have ever had was in August at Patisserie Salzburg in Rye, New York.
I am loathe to detail all of the above-average pastries that I did enjoy because, as mentioned, the places I visited are struggling, successfully or not, with success. I will say that my favorite ambiance was Cafe Landtman and my favorite pastry was at Cafe Sluka, but that is only my opinion.
There is one small Konditorei that has not been 'loved to death' and it is slightly out-of-the-way, so I expect to perhaps slightly benefit the owner with my recommendation and not turn hordes of visitors loose upon his enterprise. It is Rori's at 11 Pilgramgasse in the Margareten district of Vienna. We only had two of the numerous treats available in the window, the lemon tart and the chocolate ganache tart (second photo, top shelf, middle) and they were both excellent. Here are some pictures and you can find quite a few more on the web: