Institutions. They are out there. Usually behind aging brick walls with heavy wooden doors. They aren’t really advertised; the locals know which block they are in. They’ve been there as long as anyone can remember.
This is a blog about Kuby’s. About The Berghoff. About The Russian Tea Room.
Institutions are local places, usually of the restaurant fare, that offer a unique flavor, and have often been around since the dawn of time. Every neighborhood, village, town or city has one. Sometimes it’s just a great breakfast place (the best omelettes and hashbrowns around). Sometimes it’s the most memorable place in the area. Each one is unique. And that’s what sets it apart from every other dining establishment out there.
Let’s start little. Kuby’s. Full name: Kuby’s Sausage House. Location: the University Park neighborhood of Dallas. Featuring: diner-style breakfasts in one part, a full service butcher-shop, German delicatessen, and eastern-European import food store in the other. Kuby’s has been holding down the SMU early morning crown for a rumored 65+ years. The soft yellow glow, offset by the exposed timber screams black forest influence, and if you get there early enough, you can get home-made preserves for your toast direct from the owner at breakfast.
A little closer to home you would have been able to find The Berghoff. Full name: The Berghoff. Location: The Loop in Chicago. Featured: Dortmunder-syle beer and upper-crust German entrees. After 107 years serving Chicagoans, the Berghoff recently closed its ancient doors. Almost as upsetting as the Marshall Fields buy-out to the Chicago die-hards, the Berghoff daughter is limiting the location to catered events only.
And the source of tonight’s inspiration: The Russian Tea Room. Full name: The Russian Tea Room. Location: West 57th, New York City. Featuring: a daily ice sculpture of St. Basil’s (filled with vodka and champagne bottles), a claim to Madonna’s pre-celebrity coat-checking days, a host of entertainment personalities, and divine gourmet dishes. If you saw Dustin Hoffman’s movie “Tootsie,” you may recall this New York treasure. In 2002, the (at the time) 76-year old restaurant closed it infamous doors. However, this New York icon was not to be forgotten. The Tea Room reopened in late 2006 to the glory and splendor of its renowned former life.
Institutions vary in size. Not all are as big or as famous as the Tea Room. In fact, most are like Kuby’s–places that have been around, serving the neighborhood in a quiet, consistent, and friendly manner. Unfortunately, though, as 2 out of the 3 noted here tonight would suggest, institutions are often going by the wayside these days. Many are closing their doors to the increasing costs of supplies, tricky labor market, or (in the case of the Berghoff) waning family interest. My local favorite in Richland, The Wharf (formerly located on the bay at Gull Lake), finally sold out and is now Belle Sorrelle… or something. I’m not interested in trying it out.
But even as Jen pointed out with her family’s restaurant: there’s something comforting about just knowing its there. Something that has been there forever retains a special place in everyone’s heart. It’s the comfort of knowing a good meal is always on the table. That the usual faces will be taking care of you. And that you’ve single-handedly kept it in business for the last several decades (*everyone in there is thinking this same thing).
Institutions. What/where’s your favorite?
They are well worth the visit when you are in town. Whether it be visiting family in Philadelphia, or just bumming around your own neighborhood. Stop in to your local institution. You may like the food. You might even enjoy the atmosphere. Heck, you may even become a regular.