The Old Mohawk is reputed to have been a Prohibition-era speakeasy that became a legit tavern as quickly as it could upon repeal of that misguided experiment.
But you can't eat or drink history, and the reason the Mohawk continues to attract crowds nowadays is because it's the epitome of a convivial neighborhood hangout.
In the Mohawk's case, that translates into a breezy watering hole that makes great sandwiches and craveable snacks and gets the frying done right.
The cozy and totally fun Mohawk revels in that vintage old-school-casual German Village look - brick walls, accumulated clutter and a loopy sense of humor. Standing out are a horseshoe-shaped bar illuminated in part by a large Tiffany-style lamp rimmed with dancing turtles. See, turtles are big here, as the Mohawk is famous for its Turtle Soup ($5).
If you just winced, get over yourself. Because if not otherwise convinced, you'd likely believe the Mohawk's turtle soup was only a bowl of delicious homemade vegetable and beef soup -they're that similar.
The easy-to-eat strands of beef-like meat (which originate from Michael's Finer Meats, not kids trawling nearby Schiller Park pond) danced in a light and long-cooked tomato broth with lots of chopped veggies in it. Only lurking way underneath was a faintly gamey/sea-creature-y aspect that was countered by a hint of allspice or cinnamon. This slurp-tastic stuff has been a Mohawk special for over 70 years because it's that good.
The Kettle Chips ($6.29) were almost too good. I say that because what should be an infrequent splurge has lately turned into a constant craving for me. A platter of really thick and crispy golden brown, homemade fried chips were crowned with melty gorgonzola and chunks of bacon. Sure, the "recipe" is a no-brainer, but the execution was masterful.
Ditto for the Mother Mohawk sandwich ($8.49). It's just grilled deli roast beef with melted swiss cheese on toasted marbled rye, but an unexpected secret ingredient elevates it to local sandwich hall-of-fame status. That'd be the Mohawk's superlative chicken salad, which is supremely meaty, dotted with crunchy celery, has a whiff of dill and just enough mayo for structural stability.
Right here, I'd like to nominate the Bratwurst Sandwich ($8.49) to the Glorious Mess hall of fame. A "made from scratch" (in Bucyrus - home of the Bratwurst Festival!) flat brat (i.e. patty style) was expertly grilled and heavily dressed - to marvelous effect - with caramelized onions, warm kraut and a mountain of melted swiss. It came on a toasted hoagie roll, was served with oniony, right-on-the-money, coin-shaped potato pancakes, and is highly recommended to those with access to extra napkins.
Another simple success was the Adobo Pork Quesadilla ($9). A griddled flour tortilla was packed with slightly sweet and smoky pulled meat plus melted swiss and chopped pickles. Call it good Mexi-cue.
The obviously too healthy Grilled Salmon Florentine ($11.49) entree clearly wasn't playing to the place's strengths. The fish had a nice color on it, but not much flavor, and sides of limp veggies didn't help.
Much better was the homey Mohawk Stew ($9). Pleasing enough, if unsurprising, it was an avalanche of thick, gravy-bound cubed meat, carrots and potatoes flowing over a decent sourdough bread bowl.
After digging into that gargantuan serving, I made a slow and steady wobble back to my car, moving - fittingly - quite like a turtle.