By Mary Brown Malouf
“Brew pubs can present a reviewing challenge. I try to judge a restaurant by how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do. It is often hard to tell what a brew pub is trying to do. Is the menu conceived entirely in terms of beer or is it meant to stand on its own? Can you enjoy the food if you drink wine instead? Is the place a brew pub/restaurant or is it a brew pub/sports bar? Often, brew pub menus seem to be just an attempt to fill in the blank after beer, as in beer "n" pizza, beer "n" burgers, beer "n" wings.
I have no such qualms about Bohemian Brewery & Grill, a broken-mold bastion of beer and food pairing, a brew pub that takes food seriously, a restaurant that happens to make and serve really good beer. We discovered Bohemian's menu one holiday afternoon a few years ago. We stopped in for a beer and, after perusing the menu, we were seduced into ordering dinner. Each dish on the menu has a recommended beer; at Bohemian, beer and food pairing is taken as seriously as food and wine pairing.
I am not saying there is no pizza on the menu -- there is a whole section of it. But these pies ($12 for a 10-inch) are topped with what some would call "fancy-schmancy" ingredients: goat cheese, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and spinach. You also can build your own, four toppings cost $14.
Diners can choose from the pub or sandwich menu, including a classic reuben sandwich ($8; recommended beer: Czech Pilsener), beer-battered fish and chips ($12; Bavarian Weiß) and a garlic burger ($8; Viennese lager) that made it into the Elite Eight in The Tribune's recent Burger Madness story. Starters include the requisite wings ($8) and nachos ($8).
But the heart of Bohemian's menu goes straight to the roots of brew: hearty Czech fare that complements sturdy beer. One buxom plate held a half-pound pirogi stuffed with dill-seasoned potatoes and cheese beside a plump grilled bratwurst, sauerkraut with bacon and onions and sour cream ($13). Bohemian goulash, a delicately seasoned but serious beef stew in a sweet paprika sauce came with a baseball-size bread dumpling ($10; Bohemian's Cherny Bock).
Dumplings are frequently misunderstood. There are baked dumplings, raised dumplings, even fried dumplings. Bohemian's bread dumpling (you only get one bohemoth, thank goodness) is made from leftover bread, molded together sort of like stuffing and then simmered until it swells and softens. The same dumpling comes with the Old World roast pork ($14). The meat is cooked until fork-tender and the fat of the meat and weight of the dish is balanced by the tang of sauerkraut. Correctly made, Eastern European food can be much lighter than expected.
Bohemian's division of dishes into pub fare and entrees seems a bit arbitrary; dishes from either list are enormous in size. Schnitzel ($14), from the entree list, is a disk of pork (or chicken) pounded out to plate size, quickly fried to form a crust and served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. I ordered chicken paprikash ($14) solely for the spaetzle, which even in this pasta-crazy age are hard to find. Good spaetzle require immediacy in preparation. They aren't star-quality food, but they are irresistible. Their pillowy blandness has all the comfort of mashed potatoes but with enough substance so your teeth have something to do. The spaetzle also comes as a side for $3, but the pungently fragrant -- not spicy -- paprika sauce gave them the raison d'être that every noodle needs.
Bohemian's décor is charmingly idiosyncratic, instead of the usual sports memorabilia, the high-ceilinged, teutonic hall is filled with lovingly polished vintage scooters. But our server was the real thing, efficient in that barmaid kind of way, expert at managing and navigating a room full of imbibers.
Surprisingly, Bohemian sometimes makes a great American-style chocolate cake -- moist, gooey and dark. If it's on the special dessert list, go for it and have it with ice cream, too. The regular desserts are European style 9 crepes with cream cheese and fruit ($5), terrific, flaky apple strudel ($5) and, you guessed it, another dumpling, this one with made with a fruit of the day and lapped with rich crème anglaise. At this stage of the meal, no beer is recommended.”