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17/West at the Berghoff: A Little Bit of Old, A Little Bit of New

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 15, 2008 5:26PM

2008_01_17_West.jpgLike many Chicagoans, we cried a little in 2006 when the Berghoff restaurant closed its doors after 108 years in the loop. While the Berghoff was never known for its “gourmet” cuisine, it did serve up hearty portions of German cooking and nostalgia for old Chicago. We were delighted to see that part of the Berghoff legacy would carry on “17/West at the Berghoff.”

The gruff old waiters (and heavy German food) are nowhere to be found. Instead, new dishes like applewood bacon-wrapped shrimp and pumpkin-filled ravioli sit alongside revised German favorites like wiener schnitzel and sauerbraten. The Alsatian onion and apple soup is the best and the cheapest thing on the menu – we would buy it by the quart if we could. The root beer martini is so scrumptious that we forgive them for adding an upscale cocktail menu to the one of the most famous beer halls in Chicago.

The decor hasn’t changed much, but the constant-party feel of the old Berghoff is gone in favor of a laid-back lounge atmosphere. Even when the place is full, it’s strangely quiet. The menu lacked any sense of identity, like those chain restaurants that serve you “Thai-spiced” soup with spaghetti. The sound system, rather than playing German music or even recent pop hits, continually played a loop of Johnny Cash songs. Most off-putting was seeing restaurant staff begin close-down procedures at 8:30 on a Friday night, putting chairs on tables all around the remaining diners. For a restaurant with a listed closing time of 10 p.m., this was the wrong message to send to diners.

17/West seems to be a restaurant that is still searching for a niche to fill. The food is excellent and reasonably priced – but the setting is so surreal that you might spend more time looking around in confusion than eating.

17/West at the Berghoff: 17 West Adams, 312-427-3170.

Thanks, Anthony.