From the intersection of West Irving Park Road and Hoyne Avenue, you can see two of the last remaining old-school German taverns that once peppered the area around North Center and Lincoln Square. On the south side of Irving Park stands Laschet's Inn, and on the north side, Resi's Bierstube. From the looks of their interiors, they haven't changed much over the years. Resi's sports wood-paneled walls, and Laschet's is decorated with a canopy of intricate ceramic beer steins. (Sean Parnell of the Chicago Bar Project does a better job than I ever could recounting the history of this pair of iconic establishments here and here.) The kitchens are also holding true to their roots, serving up a comparable array of traditional German and German-American fare, including numerous sausage varieties and—of particular interest to me here—spätzle.
Their proximity to one another, their staying power, their similar menus—every factor seemed to beg for a head-to-head comparison. My noodle-based curiosities were piqued. Who's serving up the superior spätzle?
As the two examples I tried aptly demonstrate, Spätzle is something between a dumpling and a noodle. Depending on how spätzle is made, it can take on more attributes of one or the other. There are lots of varieties and preparations, including käsespätzle (cheese spätzle) and sweet spätzle made with apples and eaten for dessert. But among the givens is the basic set of ingredients: flour, eggs, water, and salt (just like fresh pasta). Unlike pasta, spätzle "dough" typically favors the consistency of viscous pancake batter. The dough is dropped into boiling water using any number of appropriated or specialized kitchen tools (badasses make the noodles by hand on a cutting board), and once the pieces plump up and float, they're skimmed off the surface and ready to eat.
(Of course, I couldn't in good conscience make a pilgrimage to these shrines of beer-hall cuisine and not eat some sausage, so I asked Blake Royer, Serious Eats Chicago's resident aficionado of encased meats, to join me for this outing; look for his take on which had the best wurst in the coming days.)
We first paid a visit to Resi's Bierstube, which has old-school charm practically dripping from the ceiling. Resi's is definitely more of a bar that serves food, whereas Laschet's is a restaurant with a bar. Our server informed us that before Resi's was Resi's, a tiki bar occupied the space—which, if true, is awesome.
Resi's homemade spätzle, which is available as a $1 up-charge with any dinner on the menu, resides more in the territory of what we all think of as noodles. The individual pieces were spaghetti-thin and curly. The portion, which seemed generous for being just a buck, came lightly sprinkled with herbs—fairly basic in terms of presentation. Texturally, the spätzle wavered nicely between being borderline crispy on one end and fluffy and toothsome on the other end. (Given how they're made, precise consistency among noodles is probably not an attainable attribute, nor is it necessarily desirable.) Resi's spätzle was also well-seasoned, with a strong savory backbone accompanied by mild flourishes of pantry herbs.
At Laschet's Inn, the kitchen turns out a much more dumpling-like spätzle ($2.50). The side-plate portion is, again, generous—even more so than Resi's. Individual pieces were more pebble-like in shape and size, making for a heavier, heartier consistency. Another point of departure between the two renditions: Laschet's sautés its spätzle, which adds a nice charred/caramelized quality. But, probably owing to their thickness, Laschet's spätzle were a little on the dense and doughy side; they lacked the springy lightness that Resi's had nailed. The Laschet's kitchen was also too hands-off with the seasoning; while the spätzle had a pleasing taste, I was hoping for something more savory, more herbaceous.
All in all, both Resi's and Laschet's put out tasty plates of spätzle. I imagine the heartier, more substantive version at Laschet's will appeal more to some eaters, while Resi's more pasta-esque spätzle is sure to have its share of advocates. But factoring in flavor, texture and seasoning, it was Resi's Bierstube by a Schnauze.
2034 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618 (map)
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