We woke to beautiful, warm, sunny weather on our second day in Chicago. Local Eats and a bit of research has us heading off to Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast. We are finding parking is a bit of an issue here in the windy city and opt for a nearby parking lot. The attendant says we have to leave the keys but Rob doesn’t want to. He tells us to go across the street to another lot, but then changes his mind. We park and the younger thug feels it is necessary to “escort” us around the corner to Lou’s. I try to get some distance from him but we can’t shake him. He holds the door open and Rob hands him a few bucks. I look at him incredulously. He replies ” he knows where our car is.” Yup.
Lou’s an honest, old school diner at the start of old Route 66, opened in 1923. It is pretty much full on a Wednesday morning at 9:45. We are greeted by a hostess who demands we take a fresh donut hole. She shows us to our table and hands us menus and mini sized box of milk duds. The table hosts a variety of condiments including their house blend of maple syrup and home made preserves. Lou’s has it’s own in-house bakery, but I’m not big on pastries or sweets for breakfast. We both opt for one of their fluffy omelettes. I choose gardiniere and cheddar, because the spicy pickle mix on Rob’s hot beef yesterday was so yummy, and Rob orders the salami and swiss. The eggs come with hash-brown potatoes which are sliced thin and fried on the flat top. You can request your omelette “hobo-style” as I did and have the potatoes folded in.
After we ordered and the waitress brings coffee and fresh squeezed OJ, I start thinking about how I’m always enthused by the long list of omelette combos on breakfast menus and how I am always disappointed. Today our omelettes are delivered in skillets. They are a nice size but not huge. I dig in to my fluffy eggs and am very pleasantly surprised. This is probably the best omelette I’ve ever had outside of my own kitchen. The eggs are not overly stretched with water or milk, the good-quality cheddar is plentiful and melty-good, and the gardiniere provides a nice spicy, vinegary, green bite . The potatoes add flavour and texture. A dollop of sour cream lends a bit of creaminess to cut the heat of the peppers. A+.
Rob’s had the same fluffy texture, but good diced salami and cheese provided a richness that rounded it out nicely. The omelettes comes with a side of excellent, egg bread toast which is made fresh on premise daily. It comes slathered in butter. Grape jelly and homemade marmalade are the jam options on the table. The jelly is good but the orange marmalade is fabulous. Lou’s makes it, and we can only assume it is created from the rind and pulp leavings of the juicer machine and a little sugar. It is tart and full of intense flavour. They do sell it and we did purchased some but had to decline it because it comes in a pint sized ice cream container that would not survive the plane trip back in a suitcase.
Our afternoon is spent shopping, taking photographs and visiting the Navy Pier. Another parking rip-off is to be had here. The Pier’s parking is unavailable due to construction so we park at a nearby garage. We tool around the tourist trap of chain restaurants and souvenir stands and enjoy beautiful Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. Getting back to the car and pay for parking, we’re charged $18 for an hour and a half. Taxis from here on in – they’re way cheaper than parking.
Back at the hotel we have a few seconds to catch our breath before hoping in a taxi for an early dinner at The Berghoff and a night of comedy at The Vic. The Berghoff is a Chicago institution. Opened in 1898, the dining room still carries the ambiance of early twentieth century.
The walls are paneled in golden oak, a twelve foot mirror graces one wall while others are adorned with murals of Chicago and curiously Rome and Venice. Big band music serenades. Stained glass and inlaid wood scenes complete the picture. The ambiance is marred only by the very casual clientele at this early dinner hour. People should be waltzed across the ballroom-esque floor by tuxedoed waiters.
The menu has been updated in recent years we are told by our Korean taxi driver, but the classics remain and are indicated as Berghoff family recipes. We both choose the sauerbraten this evening as well as two house-brewed hefweisens. An assortment of very excellent cheese crisps, rye and molasses breads are delivered to the table while we await our mains.
Our dinner arrives on white Berghoff signature dinnerware, looking deliciously home cooked. We are not disappointed. I have limited experience with German cuisine. This is my first sauerbraten and I declare it excellent. The gravy is tangy and a little sweet and nicely complements the tender, sliced beef. Asparagus and green beans are cooked tender crisp, as are the carrots. The carrots are real, peeled and sweet. One of my pet peeves and for which I will strike a restaurant from my consciousness, is an establishment that cheaps out and serves fake baby carrots that have been “babyized” — cut to size and peeled by an ammonia process in a factory somewhere. I swear this brought the venerable “The Mill” to it’s knees despite Lowell Green’s shilling. Where was I? Ooh! The mashed potatoes — creamy, smooth, buttery, just like my mom makes. Not the lumpy, dirty with skins, lazy “smashed” potatoes I make, but honest to goodness mashed deliciousness that no one takes the time to make anymore. Just as well because there was probably as much butter as potato in these.