The Over 21 Club: The Berghoff

The Over 21 Club

Reviews of classic restaurants.

Editor's note: The Over 21 Club series features Chicago restaurants that have been around for over 21 years. They must be doing something right, so we'll visit them and see why.

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[Photographs: Dennis Lee]

The Berghoff

17 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL 60603; (map); 312-408-0200;
Open Since: 1898
Cuisine: German
Cost: Sauerbraten ($15.95); Wiener Schnitzel ($17.00); Sausage Trio ($14.95); Side of Spaetzle ($2.25); Side of German Potato Salad ($2.25)

When we Chicagoans think of iconic local restaurants, one of the first that comes to mind has got to be The Berghoff. It's been in operation since 1898 and is the oldest restaurant in the city—no small feat. There were some shenanigans in 2006 resulting in the closure of the restaurant for a few months, and the restaurant did reopen in 2007 with some slight changes. I've heard people gripe that the changes were for the worse, but considering this was my first visit, I'll never know for sure.

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What's New On Serious Eats

When given the chance, I will always order something with the word "wiener" in it. Wiener schnitzel ($17.00) is a breaded and fried piece of veal, and it's the first thing I think of when I think of German food. The Berghoff's version is surprisingly not very greasy, but the meat was somewhat dry and didn't have a ton of flavor to it. The lemon helped and so did an occasional bite of pickle. I don't recall seeing a pickle with Wiener schnitzel anywhere else, but you know what? It's not a bad idea at all. At a steep $17, I'm not entirely convinced I would order it again, unfortunately.

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In my mind, the natural progression from Wiener schnitzel is to stuff more wieners in my mouth, repeatedly. Here you see the Berghoff's sausage plate ($14.95), which also features marinated artichokes, red potato, and sun-dried tomatoes. You get three kinds: a smoked Thuringer, knockwurst, and bratwurst. All three sausages were good, but the Thuringer was my favorite; it was boldly smoky, juicy, and meaty. There really isn't anything better than a simple bite of sausage, sharp mustard, and rye bread together.

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How have I never had sauerbraten ($15.95) before? This beef cooked in an interesting sweet and sour sauce was seriously delicious. I could have eaten a gallon of that sauce by itself. The tender and sturdy flavor of the beef along with the tart and sweet sauce made for a great and interesting combination.

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The only experience I've had with German potato salad ($2.25) is from prepackaged tubs at the grocery store. This warm and fresh version is vinegary with small chunks of bacon. I wouldn't have said no to more bacon and green onions in it for a bit more flavor, but otherwise it had a comforting feel to it.

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Spaetzle ($2.25) reminds me of Italian gnocchi due to the slight chew. The starchy spaetzle was somewhat gummy and oily—I think it would have been best served beneath the sauerbraten, so it could soak up all that damn good sauce.