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For a taste of Europe, try Chicago's Berghoff

One of Chicago's finest desserts
One of Chicago's finest desserts
Carol Stigger

Where in Chicago do you take friends from Switzerland who have dined all over Europe? I found that dinner goes down with less anxiety when they make the choice. I ended up at the Berghoff, 17 West Adams, with my Swiss friends George and Jeanne after they had Googled from afar and then made a walk-by inspection. On their own, they discovered a bit of Europe tucked into Chicago and were pleased first with the Bavarian décor and then with the German-American menu. After we ordered, I shared that the Berghoff has been a family favorite for three generations of my German-American family and a Chicago favorite since it opened in 1893.

We ordered “A Taste of The Berghoff” so we would not miss a specialty. This offering includes the following all on one plate: schnitzel covered with a tangy mushroom, tomato, sour cream sauce served on mashed potatoes; sauerbraten with marinated sirloin covered with sweet and sour gravy; red cabbage; spatzels; and a Berghoff mini-brat with sauerkraut. The famous Berghoff creamed spinach was served on the side. This once-secret recipe was created by Swiss-born executive chef Karl Hertenstein who manned the kitchen from 1948 until 1964. The secret was not revealed until 2007 and only because many publications had published the recipe incorrectly.

My guests particularly enjoyed the spinach and said it was not out of loyalty to their country. George was enthusiastic about the pickled red cabbage, and someone took my mini-brat when I was not looking. The tastes complimented one another and made for a satisfying meal.

Dessert won first place in our informal poll: Berghoff homemade apple strudel. “Brilliant” Jeanne concluded. The crisp tart Granny Smith apples were combined with walnuts in a sauce that was Goldilocks: not to sweet and not too tart. The crust was tissue thin, flakey and topped with a caramel sauce and powdered sugar. The cabbage and spinach tied for second place as Germany does the rest just as well, but not better.

For family dinners and for dining with friends both local and foreign, the Berghoff has proven to be the right choice.