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Lunch at the New Berghoff Cafe

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Lunch at the New Berghoff Cafe

Rene G | Oct 17, 2003 04:46 PM

I don’t eat lunch downtown often but when I do, a sandwich and a stein of beer at the Berghoff is one of my favorites. Eaten standing up at the bar, the way it was meant to be done. The problem with lunch at the bar is the crowds; it’s unpleasant having to elbow your way through all those bankers, lawyers, and commodities traders.

In part to accommodate the overflow lunchtime crowds at the bar, the underused basement dining rooms have been converted into a new cafeteria. It opened a week or two ago and I recently made my first visit. The two rooms are completely redone, with the counter and a few tables in one room and another room devoted to tables (I was relieved to see the old basement bar is untouched, though presently unused, in a separate room to the east). There’s plenty of new wood and stained glass. Even though it’s all a bit bright and shiny, clearly some effort went into making it look Berghoffian. I was especially impressed with the tile floor in the main room and spent part of my meal trying to figure out if it could be the original. As Peter B explained afterwards it is entirely new but modeled on the original pattern (he was clearly quite proud of his floor and even used the technical terms for some of the design motifs).

The menu consists of soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, and pizza. There’s very little that could be considered German food but reportedly they will be introducing daily specials. I hope some of these will be more traditional Berghoff fare. It’s served cafeteria style but most dishes are prepared to order and there are real plates and silverware. It was fairly crowded when I was there but the line moved well and the people behind the counter were friendly and efficient though a tad overwhelmed (I found out later it was their busiest day so far).

Large, good-looking salads are in the $5-6 range and small dishes of cole slaw, potato salad, beets, etc are $1. Most sandwiches are about $5, including the usual corned beef, roast beef, and bratwurst as well as several cold chicken options plus others. Five panini are listed. Several pastas are available, prepared from pre-cooked pasta and finished upon order with the sauce in a sauté pan. Small thin crust pizzas and bottled Berghoff beer are also offered. I heard good things about the sundaes but know no more.

I had a roast beef and Swiss panino ($4.95), a plate of freshly made potato chips ($1.25), and a dish of beet salad ($1.00). The decent roast beef and strong-flavored Swiss cheese were garnished with sliced tomato, good lettuces, and horseradish sauce. The sandwich, on pretty good bread, was briefly grilled in a press just enough to crisp the bread but not melt the cheese or wilt the lettuce. A good sandwich but next time I’ll avoid the sauce in favor of real horseradish (I hope it’s available, as it is upstairs). The chips were exceptionally good, somewhere between hash browns and potato chips. I very much liked the tiny beets and chopped fresh onion in vinaigrette. All in all, a pleasant lunch and not a bad value for downtown. There are menu cards available that have a $2 off coupon (with $5 purchase, good through Oct 31). It’s worth looking around for these before you head through the line.

For my rare downtown lunches I’ll still head to the bar for a sandwich and a stein (and hope that I might be in line when a fresh pan of halibut makes its appearance) but I’m sure I’ll be back to the new Café. It seems like a good addition to the Loop lunch scene.

So now it seems we have two different Berghoff Cafés: the bar and the cafeteria. It always bothered me that the bar was called the Berghoff Café. It should be called what it is, a bar or saloon. Or just refer to it as the employees do, the Public Bar (to differentiate it from the service bar in the restaurant). I noticed a temporary Public Bar sign during construction and wonder if a name change may be in the works.

Berghoff Café
17 W Adams St
Lower Level
Chicago
312-427-7399
11am-2:30pm Mon-Fri

The upstairs restaurant hours are Mon-Thu 11-9, Fri 11-9:30, Sat 11:30-10.
The bar (or whatever it’s called) opens Mon-Sat at 10:30. Last call is often around 8:30 (or even earlier if Tim is tending bar).

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