If you grew up in the Chicago area with Austrian or German grandparents (as I did) you would not possibly fail to know about the Berghoff. Actually, these days the marketing department of the Berghoff restaurant is good enough that you don't need to be of Germanic background or even, possibly, from Chicago to know about it. The Berghoff is a culinary Chicago landmark. It has been in the loop of the Chicago (and in the hands of the same family) for over 100 years, serving fine German and European cuisine.
When I was very young, my sister and brother and I would take the Chicago and Northwestern train into the city, where we would be met by our Austrian grandparents. I remember how long the Chicago blocks seemed to my short little legs (some things never change) and being taken to Marshall Field's to pick out a doll. And I remember the Berghoff. At that time, all the waiters were men. Serious men in white aprons, whisking around the tables where cutlery and glasses gleamed. My sister would spread the sour rye bread with mustard that came in a little pot. My grandparents would somberly consider whether to have the saeurkraut of a piece of pig. And I would start salivating at the thought of creamed spinach.
(I find it strange now to look back at that mini-me and wonder "Why did she like so many things that most children hate??" Spinach, liver, smoked oysters, I loved them all.)
I think my first taste of spinach was probably when my aunt sent my cousin and me into the garden to pick fresh spinach for the salad at dinner. That's a pretty good way to introduce a kid to spinach, especially if you top it with a greasy hot bacon dressing.
And then there was the Berghoff cooked spinach: creamy, salty, garlicky, with just a hint of bitterness. The spinach seemed to have just wilted into the little white bowl. I could have eaten it by the pot.
It's hardly a recipe, though. You take a colandar and wash a large quantity of spinach. It reduces amazingly, of course, so put in even more than you think you'll need. Oddly enough, I find that big leaves work better than those tender little baby spinach bunches. I tear the spinach off the big tough spines, roughly. Wash well as spinach is usually grown in sandy soil. Put the leaves, with the water still clinging to them, in a large pot. If you have some fresh garlic (don't bother with old, sour cloves - you want a fresh taste) slice a clove or two very finely and sprinkle them over the spinach. Cover and put on a low flame for 5-7 minutes. While the spinach is cooking, grate a cup or so of parmesan. Check if the spinach is done. It should have collapsed in a thick glossy sludge in the bottom of the pan. Drain the spinach again in the colander and then mix it with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of crème fraîche and the cheese. Salt generously and taste.
The Berghoff used to purée it's spinach as I recall, but I like to leave the spinach leaves in large pieces. If you want to make it easier on your guests, you could use the end of a spatula to cut the spinach in pieces in the pan (once it's cooked). Serve quickly, though, as it's much nicer piping hot.
You might have noticed that in the first paragraph I merely said the Berghoff has "fine" food. This is because we are dealing with three different Berghoffs here. There is the Berghoff of my memories (brilliant food). There is the Berghoff of my childhood as it really was (probably still very good). And there is the Berghoff today. In the 1980s, the grand-daughter (or was it great-granddaughter?) of the founder took over the restaurant and made some fundamental changes. The restaurant had already been forced to back down on its men-only policy for waiters. But in this haven of pigs and cream and heavy beers, she introduced...salads. And pasta and sandwiches. The strict dress policy that had always relegated us children to the basement was revised. And maybe some of these were good changes, or at least inevitable ones. But the place lost some of the old-world charm that I remember. It became yet another "fine" restaurant, serving a mix of European and American fare. For all I know they may be serving hamburgers now. My grandfather would be rolling in his grave.