Himmel's Takes Pizza and Adds a Side of Spaetzle
LINCOLN SQUARE — It took them five years, but Carole Himmel and Diana Himmel-Krewer finally named their baby.
The Lincoln Square mainstay Pizza D.O.C., which the sisters have owned since 2007, officially became Himmel's in the new year.
No mere vanity project, the change also reflects a shift in the restaurant's cuisine. The two have gradually been adding more European-inflected dishes to their menu, initially just on weekends, until customers eventually realized "you're not just pizza."
"We like to cook," Himmel-Krewer, 51, said. "Pizza gets dull."
Dishes such as the Bavarian-style Champignon Rahm Schnitzel — pork tenderloin in a mushroom cream gravy — are already finding favor with diners.
"The first night we rolled it out, we sold 25 orders," Himmel, 46, said
It's the kind of food the Himmels grew up cooking with their mother, Ingeborg, as their family of four shuttled back and forth between Chicago and Germany during the sisters' youth before settling in Lincoln Square for good in 1978. (Carole Himmel is the only American-born member of the family.)
But fans of Pizza D.O.C. needn't worry about losing their pies. Himmel's, located at 2251 W. Lawrence Ave., isn't about to kill the golden pizza goose — it's just serving spätzle alongside Quattro Formagi, and taking better advantage of the restaurant's wood-burning oven to fire up racks of ribs, potatoes and even French onion soup, as well as dough.
The evolution to a more European menu is a natural one for the sisters, who have strong ties to the neighborhood's German community. Both are directors of Lincoln Square's annual German-American festival, of which their father, Erich, is president. Their parents' name even graces an honorary street sign at Wilson and Lincoln avenues.
So, why take on pizza in the first place?
"We were going to be the money behind the operation," said Himmel, explaining that the pair originally signed on at Pizza D.O.C. as the silent partners of their friend Cesare D'Ortenzi.
The plan was for D'Ortenzi, who also owned the nearby Italian eatery La Bocca Della Verita, to handle the restaurant's daily business. When he died unexpectedly in late 2007, the Himmels were suddenly in charge.
"So, there we were," Himmel said. "Two German girls with an Italian restaurant."
Himmel-Krewer took over the front of the house, while her sibling tackled the kitchen.
"It was pretty scary," Himmel-Krewer admitted. "It was a real baptism by fire."
The pair weren't complete neophytes, as they ran their own catering business prior to investing in Pizza D.O.C. The challenge was compounded, though, by the fact that both sisters held down full-time jobs.
Himmel-Krewer, 51, taught figure skating, having competed for Germany at the junior level before tearing her Achilles tendon. (She recently hung up her blades after 25 years of coaching.)
Meanwhile, her sister Carole, 46, managed the family's auto business, Erich's Lehigh Auto Body in Niles, with their father, a position she still holds.
"We just got busy," Himmel said. "Five years later, we're here to talk about it."