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Jun 8, 2004 11:43 AM

Lunch near the Art Institute

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Any suggestions for a noteworthy lunch near the Art Institute downtown? Bar-be-que, Mexican, Polish, great hamburgers--anything as long as it's an easy walk.

Thanks so much for your help!

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  1. An interesting lunch is at Russian Tea Time. Its 1/2 block west on Adams and I have found the service to be good and the food is classical Russian/Polish. The potato pancakes are the closest to my Bubbie's that you can get and the "pink" salad is to die for! Great tea as well.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jeepydog

      I have to second Russian Tea time as well. Its just 1/2 a block from those famous lions, and I love the russian tea and the large menu to choose from. They have a tea service as well, but I've only had lunch and dinner here. Check out their menu online.


      1. re: pechnmew

        I would NOT recommend the Art Museum rest downstairs and out of doors. My "tandoori" chicken was disgustng, burnt and dry. Revolting. Never again!

    2. I find it hard to pass up Berghoff on Adams when I'm near the Art Institute. Eating in either the bar or the restaurant gives you the option of quick bite to full blown extravaganza.

      14 Replies
      1. re: MLS

        RE: The Berghoff
        it is a Chicago landmark and only a few short blocks from the Art Institute. Just go down the steps and keep walking straight. It'll be on your left on Adams.

        Also about the Berghoff, since last Fall, they have three dining options.
        OPTION 1: The restaurant
        Full service, sit down, German and American food. Expect to wait.

        OPTION 2: The bar
        A classic wooden bar that has been virtually the same since the 30s (the introduction of stools to the bar in the last ten years was a cause of some dismay to reactionary loyalists). Try the halibut sandwich with a side of chips.

        OPTION 3: The cafe
        Downstairs, they have a cafeteria style line. Options include: sandwiches (incl. a nice reuben and a turkey meatloaf); salads; pizzas; pastas. The line moves pretty briskly even when it's long, and I have never had trouble finding seating. Price wise it's in between the restaurant and the bar, but closer to the bar.

        In any of the three, try the root beer if you're so inclined. Pretty good stuff.

        Keep eating,
        J. Ro

        1. re: J. Ro
          Paul Mollica

          My own druthers is to queue up for the dining room, although the bar is a close second. The cafe to me has been a mixed success; a convenience to be sure, but the food is not quite up to snuff. (I think they've taken a wrong turn by trying to be a little bit of everything to everybody, like selling pizzas.) Upstairs, the experience of the wait staff, the fresh plates of rye bread, the on-tap root beer (not always available downstairs), the old panelling and murals, just the very sounds of the place, really make the Berghoff.

          1. re: Paul Mollica

            I agree whole-heartedly. The restaurant is definitely the grandest experience of the three. The bar definitely has a lot of charm. And the cafe definitely is the most convenient. For a first timer (or a one timer), I would recommend the restaurant first, the bar second, and the cafe third.

            The cafe does try to do a little too much (I don't know why they offer pizza), but it is a welcome addition to the panoply of quick lunch options near my workplace. (and I think they have rectified the sometime short supply of root beer down there - they haven't been out when I've been there in months)

            keep eating,
            J. Ro

            1. re: Paul Mollica

              I'll agree that the Berghoff is a great place but in my experience, a great restaurant it's not, at least insofar as the German specialties are concerned. And I don't say this as someone who thinks German food is not that interesting; rather, I love German food and think I know it fairly well from experience. I have tried and retried the Berghoff several times, hoping that my earlier experiences had been blighted by bad luck. But now I think that one simply ought to avoid the German specialties, e.g., schnitzels, sauerbraten, spaetzle.

              But it is a great place in lots of ways. My suggestion would be to go but order something simple and safe, e.g. a sausage platter, a sandwich, something along those lines.

              1. re: Antonius

                I had the same thought. Last time I was at the Berghoff, I thought I was playing it safe to order the sauerbraten and spatzle (what better dish to try in a German restaurant, right?). Wrong. The meat was tough, chewy and leukwarm; the sauce was too sweet and far too copious; and the spatzle were not fresh (they too were cool and rubbery, as if they had been sitting around for awhile). A bite of someone else's selection (schnitzel) was even worse (breading had separated from the meat, tough, etc.). We optimistically ordered a sausage sampler, expecting something that four people could share, only to be served a tiny plate with three miniature sausages -- hardly a bite per person. Not satisfied with my punishment yet, I even ordered the Schwartzwalderkirschtorte for dessert. Not special at all. Overly chilled and lackluster, as if it came directly from a mediocre bakery's refrigerator. It's certainly a nice-looking old restaurant that has a place in Chicago food history, but the food falls short.


                1. re: Lill

                  Leukwarm. Now that doesn't look right at all. Meant lukewarm, sorry.


                  1. re: Lill

                    Yes, your more specific criticisms of the dishes mentioned all (alas) ring true. And in addition, was the schnitzel really a schnitzel or a pressed meat-product? I ordered one quite a few years ago (my first or possibly second time there), and that's what it was, and that ain't a schnitzel.

                    I live quite near the Berghoff and really wish the food were better, especially since it does have so many non-food related things going for it. Be that as it may, I'm afraid that there are people who go there hearing that it's a great Chicago institution and one of the city's old German restaurants, and then try their German specialties and think: "God, if that's German food, that's a lousy cuisine." But properly made German food can be so good... What a pity.

                    1. re: Antonius

                      Now that you mention it and now that I think about it maybe German food is not great cuisine. I don't think that The Berhoff compares unfavorably with other famous German restaurants that I've been to in say Milwaukee including Mader's or New York including Luchows ( that must have been a million years ago).
                      Besides you order a Berhoff bourbon and/or a Berhoff dark draft, you wolf down a loaf of great rye bread before appetizers show up, you have to beg a surly waiter for more bread, and you separately purchase a loaf to take home. The food is secondary to rest of the experience-if its good great, if it's not so good it's still OK.

                      1. re: MLS

                        Everyone is free to come to their own conclusion about what they like and what they don't like, but if you're basing your judgement of German cuisine on Mader's in Milwaukee or the old and long dead Luchow's of New York or Chicago's Berghoff, than that judgement is not well informed. Real German food is hard to find in the US anymore, though I believe there are a few good places still in Metro-New York. Resi's in Chicago has been recently mentioned as being good but I haven't been there yet.

                        But the blanket conclusion that German cuisine is bad was precisely what I was afraid the Berghoff's dismal offerings might give to the uninitiate.

                        1. re: Antonius


                          Have you been to Edelweiss in, I believe, Norridge (on Irving Park, just west of Harlem--one of the two suburbs up there surrounded by the city). I'm not familiar enough with German cuisine to know if its good, great or indifferent, but I do like the food more than that at the Berghoff. Edelweiss is also a very attractive restaurant, albeit a bit frayed at the edges (most German places tend to be charming.) Unfortunately, the last time I was there, my beer suffered from that distinctive taste of uncleaned lines. Hopefully, that situation has been rectified.

                          Oh yeah, I had the sauerbraten. I liked it--I didn't love it.

                  2. re: Antonius
                    Paul Mollica

                    My post was not meant to convey a blanket endorsement of the Berghoff's food. Indeed, I seldom go myself, dining there once or twice a year only when others wish to go. (N.B.: I stick to salads, mostly.) But given its omnipresence in the history of Loop dining, its proximity to the Art Institute (the orginal poster's query), its invariable appearance in tourist guide books, and the notion that future lurkers may look at this post for advice, I wanted to suggest a bit of the majesty of the place, a way to make the most of the visit.

                    1. re: Paul Mollica

                      In my first post in this thread, I believe I clearly seconded your suggestion on similar grounds but also added an important caveat specifically about some of the food served there, lest the unsuspecting go with expectations of visiting a fine German restaurant; the Berghoff is known as an old Chicago German restaurant and it is often mentioned as being a place worth visiting for the traveller to Chicago. I agree -- it's worth the visit, as I said earlier. But one should enjoy the charm with a glass of beer and a sandwich platter, lest one mars the experience with a bad pseudo-sauerbraten or or ersatz-schnitzel.

                      1. re: Antonius

                        Actually, the Berghoff was never considered a top notch German restaurant, and is not highly thought of in some of the earlier travel literature. But as the Zum Deutchen Eck's and Golden Ox's and Red Star Inn's have disappeared, it's gradually become one of the few, let us say, German-style restaurants around. It does, however, have a lot of history and character and location, location, location, and since it is not terribly expensive for the location, location, location, I often feel compelled to mention it when out-of-towners specifically request Loop recommendations. I guess it just requires a ton of caveats--and I concur with all of them (and why don't they have mustard pots on every table? should diners also be recommended to BYOM?)

                  3. re: Paul Mollica

                    Ditto on Berghoff. Stick to the simple stuff. Brats and Knockwurst are also good. You might be able to avoid lining up by scheduling a later lunch, after 1:30, say.

                    Another option for lunch--with a cajun touch--is Heaven on Seven in the Garland Building at 111 N. Wabash Ave. a couple of blocks north of Berghoff), altho there's also usually a wait at prime lunch hours.

              2. If you are looking for an artistic lunch that will be memorable (and about $20), try the Backstreet Bistro on North Wabash down the street from Marshall Field's. They have an interesting menu of meals prepared by culinary students from the Chicago Institute of Arts. It is a bit pricy for me at lunch but very reasonable for white tablecloth dining.

                Personally, I would also recommend Marshall Field's State Street flagship store as having pretty good food whether you hit their ground floor cafeteria, their 7th floor food court, or one of their restaurants. The food is surprisingly good and it is a place that I take a lot of visitors.

                On South Wabash, I have had good meals at Miller's Pub and the Exchequer both of which serve a good variety of American cooking and are located near the Palmer House. Another personal favorite is Spoon Thai on South Wabash which is located near the Chicago Hilton.

                1. I just had lunch at the Park Grill which is a few blocks north of the Art Institute on the east side of Michigan (at Madison) in Millennium Park. The sandwiches are just as good as Miller's Pub and Exchequer, and the room is a lot brighter and livelier. It is a little on the loud side, so if you're sensitive to that, you might want to stay away.

                  Keep eating,
                  J. Ro

                  1. p
                    Paul Mollica

                    How are people feeling about this place lately? I had one good dinner ther a couple of years ago. It's certainly convenient enough to the Art Institute (one block west on Adams), but I rarely hear it mentioned on the board. Any thoughts?