Wed. April 24, 2013 12:00 AM
by Rick Karlin
Whenever I dined at Pizza D.O.C. in Lincoln Square I always wondered, "How did two German gals end up opening a pizza restaurant?"
After 15 years of dishing up nearly perfect pizza, sisters Diana and Carol Himmel have decided to go back to their roots and recreate some of their mother's recipes. However, they're not giving up the pizza end of the operation. How could they? As one of the first places to serve Neapolitan-style pizzas in Chicago, there's too much of a demand for it. Besides, the sisters always considered their place an Italian restaurant with a German flair.
Himmel's amazing wood-burning oven, imported from Italy, was the first of its kind in Chicago. The sisters decided that the flavor profile the oven brought to pizza would work in a similarly spectacular fashion for other foods. They experimented with family recipes and offered them as specials at D.O.C. The specials were such a hit, they decided to to make them a more permanent fixture, and expand the focus of the restaurant's menu. After that, it just seemed logical to change the name as well.
So, in addition to the pizza offerings, Himmel's now offers an expanded selection of pastas, Italian appetizers and desserts. Where you'll see the German influence most is in the entrée section of the menu. Joining such Italian stalwarts as veal scaloppini, chicken parmigiano, braccio di ferro (chicken breast rolled with spinach, tomatoes, mozzarella & pine nuts, served in a white wine cream sauce) and saltimbocca are a trio of schnitzels. Along with the traditional veal (served with potatoes and red cabbage), is a chicken version served with potatoes & vegetables. Both offer very generous portions, easily enough for two. The chicken version I sampled was nice and moist and the sautéed vegetables were all fresh and perfectly cooked.
The big draw, though, is the champignon rahm schnitzel. Don't know if it's named after our mayor, but it is a big piece of meat! It features seared pork tenderloin medallions sautéed in butter and finished in a shallot mushroom cream sauce. The dish is served with spätzle and red cabbage. The pork was perfectly cooked (medium) and the red cabbage is delicious. The spätzle is not like my grandmothers' version. Hers were little nuggets of dough; Himmel's version is closer to angel hair. Different, but well prepared.
If it's a weekend, and you're hungry, try the Bavarian pork shank. Again, more than enough for two to share, the shank is prepared Munich style, crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. It is served with mushroom gravy, dumplings, fresh vegetables, and a side of cabbage salad.
Appetizer offerings tend toward the Italian and the antipasto platter is a great deal. It easily serves four and includes an assortment of cured Italian meats, cheese and roasted .vegetables. Other options include bruschetta, arancini and calamari (fried or grilled).
Sadly, the dessert menu doesn't offer any German items (a strudel would be nice), but you won't go wrong with any of the gelato, the tira misu or, my favorite croccantino, frozen zabaglione layered with a walnut brittle and adorned with candied walnuts.
Service is efficient, if a bit cold (the German influence, perhaps). There is a full (if limited) wine and cocktail menu. The décor is is attractive, but not warm or inviting (that German thing again?). Nevertheless, it is comfortable and since we heard German being spoken at the next table, I'm guessing the new focus is working.