It was a sad moment in Chicago culinary history when the Berghoff, open since 1898, closed in 2006. But it soon reopened with a vintage German-American menu supplemented by 21st century fare and ambiance that remains solidly 19th century. To dine at the bare wood tables in this dark-oak place is to recall a style of bountiful urban gastronomy that predates Prohibition. Vintage murals on the walls show images of old Chicago and the Colombian Exposition of 1893 and portraits of stern Berghoff ancestors. Long-time customers start their meal with a shot or two of The Berghoff’s private stock bourbon and/or draughts of brewed-here ale or lager.
Appetizers include the likes of Alsatian onion and apple soup, potato pierogies, and mini bratwursts; and while The Berghoff is best known for such Eastern European classics as sauerbraten with sweet and sour gravy, rahm schnitzel, and veal bratwurst, it also happens to be a fine place to enjoy such all-American meals as Lake Superior whitefish and a lovely 10-ounce hamburger at lunch.
Big-deal dinners can be had late in the day, but lunch is right, too. The sandwich menu includes beautiful Reubens and hot corned beef on house-baked rye, grilled brat on a pretzel roll, and a turkey BLT made with jalapeno bacon and zesty chutney. Among noteworthy side dishes are some of the tastiest creamed spinach anywhere, German potato salad, spaetzle, potato pancakes, and red cabbage. Sauerkraut – fresh and pickly and radiant with spice – is memorable alongside just about any meal. For dessert: Michigan blueberry crème brulee, a root beer float using Berghoff-brewed root beer, or kirsch-flavored Black Forest cake.