Fondue has history steeped in Swiss, French, and American cultures — and cheese fondue is a quintessentially Swiss dining concept. Originating in the 18th century, it is said that those who had limited access to food would mix cheese and wine together over an open flame and dip their bread into the mixture.
Fondue Bourguignonne (steak fondue) can be credited to vineyard workers in the French region of Burgundy. Unable to leave the vineyards to eat, the workers would heat pots of oil and cook their meat during the short periods of time that they were allowed to take a break. From this idea all other meat and seafood fondues were born.
And last but not least, we can credit Swiss born, New York City chef Konrad Elgi for the creation of chocolate fondue. Gejas’s Café in Lincoln Park takes all of these unique fondue methodologies and combines them into one memorable dining experience.
As I entered Geja’s the first thing that struck me was the old world charm of the space. It is dimly lit and the walls are lined with wine bottles. There are many small tables and booths throughout the space, many draped with rich colored curtains. My guest and I were escorted through the space to the bar. When we sat down the bartender presented us with an extensive wine list. He was very knowledgeable about each wine, and offered us several recommendations based on what we told him we liked.
I ordered the Bordeaux Rouge (which was excellent) and we sampled the cheese spread and crackers placed on the bar. After a short while we were escorted to our table.
The first course was a deliciously tantalizing cheese fondue. Made with Swiss Gruyere, cherry brandy, white wine and nutmeg, the flavors were bright and robust. We were provided with apple wedges, grapes, and several types of bread to use as dipping vessels. Each bite brought out a new medley of flavors when paired with the cheese, working together in perfect harmony as they danced along our taste buds.
The salad that came next was impeccably proportionate. Dressed in a piquant Dijon vinaigrette, it was light and easy to eat. The acidity of the dressing paired well with the mildness of the greens.
Our prompt and attentive waiter then lit the burner to heat up our pot of soybean oil. What came next was fit for royalty — we were presented with a platter of aged beef tenderloin, fresh lobster, jumbo Gulf shrimp, Atlantic sea scallops, boneless chicken breast, and a variety of fresh vegetables. He then brought out eight dipping sauces and informed us of what would pair well together. From garlic aioli to lemon butter, to horseradish cream and chili, we truly had every sauce we would ever need.
With fondue being one of the last forms of communal dining, I can truly say my guest and I had an experience that made us work together. As we cooked the food (and helped each other find what fell off our forks into the pot) we were laughing and having such a fun time. The meat and vegetables tasted incredibly fresh and all of our waiters’ pairing suggestions were spot on.
While the entire meal had been excellent thus far, dessert was by far the high point. Our waiter brought out a dishful of apples, bananas, Rice Krispies Treats, strawberries, marshmallows, pound cake and crushed graham crackers. After that he flambéed a special Belgian style chocolate and liqueur (in honor of their 50th anniversary). As the flames licked their way through liqueur we were able to toast our marshmallows, dip them in the chocolate, and then cover them in crushed graham cracker. This version of deconstructed s’mores evoked a feeling of nostalgia and was a pleasant reminder that some of the best bites are the simplest.
The out of the box and straightforward dining experience at Geja’s Café is what sets it apart. The quality of ingredients, unparalleled wine list, and the sense of community felt while dining in this simple style have kept this restaurant around for 50 years. This is worldly fondue at its finest.
340 W Armitage Avenue, Chicago IL 60614