Monday, May 21, 2012

The Bohemian Crystal, Westmont, IL

Deep dish pizza may top most people's list of Chicago must-eats, but when my family visits Chicago, there's only one place we have to go - The Bohemian Crystal in Westmont. Back in the early days of The Traveling Spoon, I dedicated a post to exploring my culinary heritage, and The Bohemian Crystal was an important landmark on the journey.

Legendary Breaded Pork Tenderloin and Bread Dumplings at the Bohemian Crystal, Westmont, IL

To make a long story a bit shorter, I trace my culinary roots to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany, so the Bohemian Crystal - which specializes in Bohemian, Slovak and Moravian cuisine (with a few classic German and Polish entrees thrown in for good measure) - is the perfect place to sate my ethnic food cravings. But this restaurant isn't just a mecca for my extended family, it's also a favorite of the sizable Czech population that makes its home in the Chicago suburbs.

Main Dining Room at the Bohemian Crystal

My family has been going to 'the Crystal,' for as long as I can remember - quite possibly, in fact, since before I was born, and I'm quite sure the decor hasn't changed a bit since those early days. Stepping into the Crystal really is like stepping back in time: leather-backed chairs, low, heavy-beamed ceilings, and brick interior accents speak to its 1960s-70s heyday, as does the superannuated clientele. On any given visit, my siblings and I are usually the youngest patrons by a few decades at least, but this is actually a positive because it means that the Crystal really understands good, stick-to-your ribs food, with generous portions that represent a value for money reflective of a bygone era. Simply put, it's good, old-fashioned food and a lot of it!

Start 'em young: my nephew, James' first visit to the Crystal

The Crystal is modeled on a traditional, Old World Czech restaurant, which means it's dark, dated, and decorated with masses of tchotzkes - including, of course, its namesake Bohemian crystal. Add to that the traditional dress of the young, female waitresses and you could be forgiven for imagining yourself in a pub in Prague.

So now that I've set the scene, what about the food? Well, since I've been to the Crystal so many times, you think I'd be able to give you a detailed run-down of the menu....and as a champion of variety, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I've only ever ordered one thing off their ridiculously extensive menu (seriously, you might want to do an online recon to nail down a few options beforehand, or you'll be reading for a while). That's right - I've ordered the same meal every time I've visited the Crystal, but when your meal is as good and authentic as their Breaded Pork Tenderloin, why mess with perfection?

See? Perfection.

The Crystal is known for hearty favorites like duck, lamb shank, pork tenderloin, or veal cutlets, but it also boasts an extensive list of sides, including potato pancakes, both bread- and potato-based dumplings, veggies, and sauerkraut - all of which can be topped with the thick brown gravy that they serve in abundance. Each entree includes a choice of sides and is served with a choice of soup or salad and some rye bread and rolls. You also get a bottomless mug of coffee or tea and a choice of dessert to finish.

Liver Dumpling Soup with Rye bread

The breaded tenderloin is massive and crisp (ask for a lunch portion or half portion if you're intimidated), but lightly breaded and usually not too greasy. Taken alongside some pillowy bread dumplings - my favorite part of the meal - and a river of molten gravy, it's a richly satisfying culinary trip to the 'old country.' I usually preface mine with a slice of caraway-infused rye bread and a bowl of liver dumpling soup, popular for its clear broth and tender, lightly spiced dumplings.

Poppyseed Kolacky

For dessert, I always choose kolacky, but kolacky-lovers should be warned that it's sometimes a bit hit-or-miss with the quality of the pastries at the Crystal. They're sourced from different bakeries and suppliers in the area (I always imagine some little babushka churning out hundreds of pastries in her kitchen!) which means that they're often slightly different from visit to visit. Thankfully, we were in luck this past time and feasted on some of the fattest, juiciest poppyseed kolacky I've ever seen!

Fruit Kolacky

Sure it's a nostalgic eatery for me - just the smell of the Crystal's over-strong coffee is enough to bring back memories of childhood visits with my grandparents and extended family - but it's also a great choice for anyone who values good, rich food and good value. Of course, you can't keep such a great place secret, so if you find yourself craving old world favorites you might want to make a reservation - the Crystal is especially packed on Sunday afternoons and is closed on Mondays.

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1 comment:

  1. Seems like you people have lots of fun there, food also look good. Thank you for sharing your post and keep posting such posts