Old World Charm

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A restaurant recommendation:

5734 W. Cermak Road
Cicero, IL 60804

It might be fudging it a bit, for the purposes of this blog, but I'm sure if you'd measure the shoulders in Cicero you'd find them at least as big as Chicago's. Besides, the restaurant is within walking distance from the end of the Pink Line.

We went as a group on Saturday, seven of us, having studied abroad together in Vienna in the fall. Now in the spring and squarely in the American Midwest we were craving schnitzel. Klas is not quite the dining room at the Hotel Sacher and not quite the Gasthof up the street from our student residence in Leopoldstadt, in fact it might bristle at the comparisons. The sign out front advertises "Bohemian and American cuisine." Czechoslovakia was four years independent from Vienna when the restaurant opened, a Czech restaurant in a town chock full of Czechs. Eighty-eight years on, it preserves some of that old world charm in a much changed world.

The facade is a mock half-timbered village, with peaked roofs of different heights and even a turret. Inside are suits of armor, wood-carvings, fancy chandeliers, lace, stained glass, and taxidermy. It's probably the closest thing to Habsburg Mitteleuropa we could hope to find this side of the Atlantic.

And we got our wiener schnitzel. And a plate of schnitzel at Klas, at $12.95, comes not just with a veal cutlet but also a choice of two sides, soup and dessert. And so along with our wiener schnitzel we had our goulash soup, our sauerkraut, our bread dumplings, and our strudel. Tall, dark Czech beer flowed liberally to wash it all down.

After eating, and moreover after recovering from eating, we gave the rest of the restaurant a look. The place is huge - in addition to the main dining room there's a bar, a beer garden, and at least three private banquet halls, done up as a hunting lodge, dance hall, or baroque palace. There must have been a time when the restaurant was just packed, but that was not the case on a Saturday afternoon in 2010. Next time you're having a Czech wedding, a Czech family reunion, or a Czech charity banquet, make sure to check this place out.


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