Serious Eats: Chicago
Bar Eats: Laschet's Inn Just Wants to Be Your Friend
Laschet's Inn just wants to be your friend. It's a lot like that old lady's house down the street when you were a kid—the one with the blinds always pulled and the bizarre lawn decorations. But then one day your kickball sails over the fence, and she catches you in her yard and before you can scurry back over the fence...she invites you in for warm apple streudel and a glass of milk.
With its Bavarian façade and unmistakable black and yellow German coat of arms aglow on Irving Park, you've probably seen Laschet's at least a dozen times, each with the same thought: I wonder what happens in there?
Well, it had been a watering hole long before Karl Laschet purchased it in 1971. And indeed, it is the kind of place that attracts a lot of regulars with its casual, old-world comfort. Ceramic bier steins line the ceiling, and the place is bathed in yellow light. German city crests adorn the walls, abutting everything from soccer balls to swords to Mickey Mouse. It is eclectic and authentic, and a lot of the regulars aren't barflies. They are here to eat.
Start with the Obatzda pretzel ($10.95), a soft, warm piece of love that spills over the edges of a large plate. The pretzel is well salted, deliciously buttery, everything a pretzel could possibly aspire to be. The obatzda is a thick dip of Camembert and brie, laden with onion and paprika, served cold. It was a nice accompaniment (though four dollars extra), but in my mind, you can't really beat the wonderfully piquant brown mustard.
The hot sausage plate ($10.95) is a trio of thuringer, knackwurst, and bratwurst served with sauerkraut. The beef and pork thuringer has a coarser grind that gives it more texture. Lots of good smoky flavor and garlic round it out. The knackwurst is finely-ground, more mildly-spiced (though some garlic comes through), and has a buttery, smooth mouthfeel. The veal bratwurst was subtle and good, but lacked oomph next to the other two.
Leberkase ($12.95) is a Bavarian veal loaf steak that is baked in a bread pan and then pan fried and topped with a fried egg. It is not like meatloaf; rather, it has a smooth texture and flavor reminiscent of fried baloney. And in no way is that a bad thing. Salty, with a nice dousing of black pepper, the crisp from the frying adds a nice layer of texture. It is served with great German potato salad, fortified with plenty of pickles and onions, and bacon-enhanced sauerkraut.
Does anyone else remember those water snake toys from childhood? You know, the little tubes filled with water that would slip out of your hands every time you tried to hold them? Am I alone here? Well, that's what the rouladen ($16.95) reminded me of, except covered in gravy. They are cylindrical beef rolls flavored with mustard, bacon, pickles, and White Castle-ish onions, with a texture somewhere between chopped brisket and meatballs. Again, black pepper and the vinegar from the mustard and pickles really comes through in these gut bombs. You can order a small for four dollars less and your pants will thank you, especially since it is accompanied with wonderful, soft spaetzle that has a pleasant, cheesy crunch to it and some vinegar-bathed red cabbage. Seriously, this stuff will give you the acidic equivalent to brain freeze, but I kept going back for more.
Just in case you are still hungry, the meals also come with a salad (I recommend the cucumber salad) or soup. The best dollar you may ever spend it to upgrade your soup to the goulash, a thick, rich, surprisingly spicy stew full of meat and paprika.
And then there's the house-made mini-loaves of rye bread. They also serve desserts from Dinkel's bakery, and who can say no to complimentary after-dinner schnapps?
Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the selection of German beers. While the draft selection was decent, they were still featuring hefe-weizens and pilsners more apropos of the summer, and had run out of the one darker, more wintery offering, Spaten Optimator. But they pour each beer in its proper (huge) glass, and when it arrives, crowned with an inch of froth, it's easy to feel right at home. So venture into Laschet's—you may just make yourself a new friend.
Josh Conley is single-handedly trying to re-introduce the verb beget into the everyday lexicon. He traveled to Easter Island one Christmas out of sheer irony. He excises a hefty syntax, and shamelessly promotes the color orange. His wife begat him two small children that he regularly belittles HERE.