Memories of grandma's cooking are the secret ingredient at Bohemian Garden, where a recent Sunday dinner more than satisfied a nostalgia for the favorite flavors of childhood. Great service and a charming setting complement the cuisines of Germany, Austria, Poland and neighboring European countries.
What look like handpainted flowers beneath the glass tabletops stirred thoughts of Julie Andrews and the von Trapp family in an ode to Alpine Edelweiss. Fresh flowers dot the sills of windows ringing the spacious dining room.
Our server brought us a basket of rye bread and rolls and helped guide us to a Czech Republic beer on draft, a wonderful Pilsner Urquell.
Two words of advice for Bohemian Garden? Come hungry. The generously portioned meals include hearty side dishes and soup or salad.
I couldn't resist the traditional liver dumpling soup, and it was delectable, with a spicy edge to the fresh dumpling balanced by tender cubed carrots in the consomme. It's just one of the soups available, and then come the tough choices of picking between bread or potato dumplings, spaetzels and oodles of other options – a purely pleasurable conundrum for the diner.
To accompany my chicken schnitzel, I chose red cabbage and a German potato salad that the server assured me is a standout. Normally, I'm wary of all-too-sour imitations at the deli.
But this was the real deal, a homemade treat served warm that deftly balanced sweet and sour and included perfectly prepared bacon tidbits among the ingredients.
My schnitzel's breading hit the requisite crisp notes and was subtly seasoned to complement the moist chicken in a serving that almost overflowed the plate. Pork is, of course, another option for the classic dish.
And I shamelessly helped myself to my companion's potato dumplings that arrive with a warm gravy boat to let you decide the right amount of aromatic sauce to lavish on them.
My dining partner immediately settled on a combination sausage platter as soon as he saw that all of them are prepared in-house. For his dish, he picked the Thüringer, Polish and Knackwurst, offered with a spicy German mustard or Heinz. Yet again, we were surprised at what a difference the chef achieved over what's usually found at the grocery. Instead of a sharp bite, the Polish sausage had a marvelous, subtle flavor. The dish was accompanied by a superb sauerkraut.
On a future visit, we plan to try seafood and roast duck. The menu also features sandwiches, salads, vegetarian dishes, gluten-free options and foods with an American accent so that all guests find something to their liking.
Given the plentiful entree choices, combination platters save the day when it comes to narrowing down favorites. You can mix and match to your appetite's desire.
Luckily, we chose to take home leftovers to enjoy the next day, which left us room to try a crème brûlée prepared in a style new to us: Oranzovy. It was heavenly, and the perfect amount to share to avoid guilt pangs. The confection included orange zest and Grand Marnier.
Guests who want to keep an eye on sports action will find unobtrusive TVs scattered along the walls, and the staff is happy to dial in your channel of choice. The restaurant has banquet space and a cozy lounge, where the carved chairbacks look like you've walked into a Munich bar just in time for Oktoberfest.
It's all part of Bohemian Garden's skillful juxtaposition of Old World and new.
The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Suburban Life Media. The diner's identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. Only positive dining experiences will result in published reviews.
WHERE: 980 W. 75th St., Downers Grove
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Mondays
DRESS CODE: Casual
INFO: bohemian-garden.com, 630-960-0078