Saturday, June 04, 2005

Berghoff's German Brats and Beer

If you like beer, and you're in Chicago, do not miss The Berghoff.

I was there twice for a pint of their award-winning lager and their bratwurst - delicately fluffy, slightly sweet, beer-infused sausages on rye. The sauerkraut masked the flavor of the sausages somewhat, but it was all good.

Their lager is hands down the best I've had to date. Clean, crisp, and a bit malty, it was so smooth, tasty, and easily drinkable that I was downing it like it was my last meal.

In fact, The Berghoff WAS my last meal at Chicago. I walked up to the bar at half past two, dragging my oversized Borg Cube suitcase, messenger bag slung over my shoulder, carrying my shopping bag with a newly purchased suit.

"I'll have a stein of lager and a bratwurst sandwich please."

Ah. So good.

Either the bartender recognized me from a few days
earlier, or he was just bored, but we began chatting a bit. He and his family of six have been in Chicago for ages. He's been working at The Berghoff for more than 25 years, a really nice guy.

I tried to take home a few bottles, but they were completely out. I didn't want to risk taking an entire mini-keg (5 liters) back to California without knowing whether they'd let me on the plane or not.

In the end, I returned home with nothing but great memories.

For all you travelers out there, the Berghoff is right across from a bus stop at Adams St & State. A block away is the Orange Line station at Wabash St, I think. It might be State. If you're coming in through Chicago-Midway airport, you really have no excuse to skip it.

Visit the Berghoff, goddammit.

Tony, this goes for you too. And you live there.

Update: Gaaah, I'm getting frustrated trying to find a place that sells Berghoff lager in bottles. Beverages and More doesn't carry it either. I'm getting desperate here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Lost in Wisconsin

In any large metropolis, it is a general rule that if you don't own a car, you'll tend to hang around the same 4x4 mile square area. SF doesn't count because it's 8x8 miles square to begin with. For example, during my visit to Chicago, I mostly hung around downtown and the Lincoln Park area where my brother lives - there was a lot to eat, see, and do, just in that area alone. There really was no need to venture outside those two areas unless I had a car.

You can live your entire life in Chicago without ever using a car. That's one of the great things about Chicago, but it seems to breed a strange sort of mentality: once you've got your hands on a car, you feel obligated to use it as much as you can.

Such was the case this past Memorial Day.

By the time Memorial Day rolled around, my brother Brian, his wife, and I already had the rental car for the past 3 days. We had visited the Sand Dunes in Indiana, outlet stores galore, and obscure local restaurants in Chicago that are hard to get to by normal means. This would be the last day we'd have the rental car, and we felt obligated to use it.

"We haven't been to Wisconsin yet," Brian said. "We should go. Ravi said that there's stuff to do in Wisconsin."

We weighed our options. Chicago: There's an Irish Parade, fireworks at Navy Pier, carnival celebration at Navy Pier, this looks good. We can probably stick around.

But we have a car.

All right, let's go to Wisconsin. What's there to do? Brewery tours? Closed. Outlet stores? Sure, it's the Memorial Weekend and sales are going on all around. Well, what else? We can find some local food, have good beer, brats, and cheese. Not quite as exciting.... are you sure you don't want to just stick to Chicago?

But we have a car.

All right, Wisconsin it is.

Milwaukee is not far from Chicago - we talked a bit, listened to music, and slept on the way there. But Wisconsin is a strange and desolate land. Memorial Day had something to do with it.

We drove up and down Third Ward, looking for things to do. Shops were closed and streets were blocked off. There was a smattering of people waiting for the parade to start. About forty Harley Davidson motorcycles were parked off a side street, their owners lounging by the side, talking shop.

We walked around downtown a bit, but quickly became apparent that the place was dead -- or at least, dead to us. We didn't know what else to do. The Miller Brewery and Lakefront Brewery tours were both closed for Memorial Day. Veteran's Park looked quite inviting, but Andrea was still tired and didn't want to do anything physical.

At this point, Ravi called Brian on his cell phone. "Go to Brady Street," he said. "That's where all the magic happened!" So we did.

Brady Street sucks. Like before, shops were closed, and the ones that were open were all kind of strange. The irony was, I wasn't sure whether it would be any better with everything open.

We eventually left the Land of Cheese, Beer, and Brats with some cheese and cashew brittle we purchased from the Mars Cheese castle. Not much to show for this trip to Milwaukee, the city which only takes 8 pages in the Zagat guide, and only as an afterthought to Chicago.

If anything though, I just visited on the wrong day. Next time I'll find more to do and enjoy. I'll definitely plan ahead of time and check out the brewery tours. Any native Cheeseheads out there, please let me know what else there is to enjoy in Wisconsin - I'd really like to know!