Friday, December 18, 2009
Ahhh, Lunch at Karl Ratzsch's German Restaurant!
Ms. P and I have established a mini-tradition. Last year during the holiday season we ventured out to Karl Ratzsch's German Restaurant in the heart of downtown Milwaukee in bitter cold, less than two blocks away from where we work. This year Ms. P and I determined to once again dine at Ratzsch's for the holidays. We chose today for our festive luncheon. Shortly before the time we had agreed to meet in the lobby of our building to do the short trek to Ratzsch's, I ran down a floor to Ms. P's office and presented her with a festive gift bag. She, in turn, presented me with my much larger and heavier bagged gift. Oh my! She said she hoped it wouldn't be too heavy to carry home on the bus. I hefted it a few times - it wasn't. I've carried more weight the mile home from the Pick n' Save - up hill, many a time. The gift, Ms. P. said, was selected with me and Mr. Don in mind, as she knew he would be joining me for Christmas. When I got the bag back up to my office, I checked the gift out. It is in a bag from a local Cedarburg winery. Hmmmm - wonder if it's wine? I'm hoping so! Ms. P didn't say the contents needed to be refrigerated, but it could be a fake-out. Maybe it's just a year's supply of grapefruit. Still, I'm not opening the wrapped package, which is now resting beneath my Christmas tree, until Mr. Don gets here. Ms. P made reservations for our holiday luncheon - online, I learned today (I didn't even know Ratzsch's has a website!) and we arrived shortly before noon. When we visited last year around this time, I hadn't eaten there in probably 35 years - and so it was an adventure for me. Perhaps 4-5 years ago, the owners of Ratzsch's wanted to retire and after not being able to find a buyer for the business, announced that it would be closed! This was horrid news! Ratzsch's is one of the few fabled German restaurants left in Milwaukee that serves genuine German recipes. Some years earlier, the John Ernst Cafe, a short trip north of downtown, closed because of declining business, never to reopen. It's lovely building on the corner of Ogden and Van Buren was eventually turned into condos. The only authentic German restaurants left in the downtown area in this historically German city are Ratzsch's on East Mason Street and Mader's on North 3rd Street. Fortunately for Milwaukee and tourists who appreciate genuine and not kitschy atmosphere and really fine German food (some "American" entrees also offered), some long-time employees of Ratzsch's came forward with an offer to buy the restaurant, and it was accepted! Financing was procured and voila! A Milwaukee institution was saved and a new day started. I am so glad. Ratzsch's is really a lovely restaurant, and it is a tradition worth saving for our city. It is a wonderful place to eat, heavily Gothic/Germanic in style but with wonderful, whimsical design surprises everywhere you look. I love it! The eye finds constant delight in roving about the large dining room (great for couples who do not have much to say to each other, or business strangers going out to lunch or dinner by circumstance). For special guests (like romantic couples), there is an upper gallery that provides candle-lit intimacy with a great view of the great beamed dining hall below. By the way, the indescribible bar area itself is worth a separate visit :) Ratzsch's is a white table cloth restaurant with excellent food, excellent service, and excellent aura. If you are ever in Milwaukee, please stop by Ratzsch's for lunch or dinner. If you've got a sweetheart out on a date, ask to be seated in the upper gallery. Trust me, it's well worth the $10-$20 you pass to the maitre'de, depending upon how busy the restaurant is. The restaurant now offers convenient online reservations! Check out the Christmas Day dinner menu. After I read that earlier this evening, I was tempted to skip dinner at my sister Deb's place this year and take Mr. Don to Ratzsch's to experience this unique dining experience - Christmas Day! But I'm feeling guilty even writing those words... Well, I suppose Mr. Don and I shouldn't skip the family dinner, but if I can fit it in, I will take Mr. Don to Ratzsch's during his all-too-brief week here for Christmas. We're already scheduled to dine at another local (but not so famous) German restaurant institution - Kegel's, on December 23rd, with my good friend Ann. I love Kegel's, and I think Mr. Don will fall in love with it, too. Certainly not so grand a setting as Ratzsch's, but the service is as good and the food is fine, with lots of traditional German entrees! The neighborhood feeling - can't be beat. Ratzsch's has been beautifully decorated for the holiday season, with a large kissing bough in the center of the restaurant, traditional boughs of holly, and this year, lots of really cute teddy bears and other native Wisconsin critters appearing as stuffed animals tucked here and there, some in costumes, some not, all about the place. Ms. P and I were so busy talking, I have to say I hardly noticed the surroundings, except to soak in the general relaxing ambiance of dark wooden beams, stained glass, oil paintings, finely crafted large brass platters scattered about the walls, pristine table settings and sparkling crystal, and the greenery of the Yuletide season. My Goddess! I sound like an advertisement! LOL! Ratzsch's offers delicious daily specials at great prices. Ms. P had one of the specials, a half rack of pork ribs with spaetzel and red cabbage. She ate every single bit of food on her plate. I have NEVER seen her do that before! Not being a particular fan of red cabbage or sauerkraut, I ordered off the standard lunch menu a philo-crusted chicken breast with bacon smothered in fresh-chopped spinach and alfredo sauce, served with garnish/sides of pureed sweet potato and light as air spaetzel. OHMYGODDESS! Well, we were both splurging calory-wise today :) I found the sweet potato puree tasty and it was light as a feather and beautifully presented in about 3 inch wide piped swirls on either side of the entree, but it seemed to be lacking something - not sure what. Perhaps there was too much cumin and not enough cinnamon? Or no cinnamon? Or, now that I am thinking about it, a quick dash of salt may have done the trick. Duh! I told Ms. P that I thought my whipped sweet potatoes are better (my recipe doesn't use cumin). LOL! I'm not complaining! Everything was delicious. I only stopped eating because the alfredo sauce was so rich, and I wanted very much to have one of Ratzsch's famous desserts. As it was, I ate every single bit of chicken and bacon and left behind only whisps of spinach, sweet potato puree and spaetzel. The meal was impeccably served by a busy but attentive waitress in traditional 19th century German costume. She was a very good waitress, and so was the food. Yum! Ms. P and I managed to chat and broke all etiquette rules by talking with semi-full mouths, but I she was telling me about the latest amusing episodes with her two new kitties and I was telling her about the continuing adventures of selling this house and buying a different hous. And then, our plates were finished! Our waitrress asked about dessert and/or coffee. Ms. P and I looked at each other and said "YES! to dessert and "NO" to coffee. Our waitress suggested splitting a dessert, which was wonderful. So many places frown on this practice. However, Ratzsch's desserts are generously large and infamously rich, and so we welcomed the suggestion to split. We chose the Black Forest Torte which looked like one of the "lighter" offerings on the dessert plate. (I use the word "lighter" advisedly). The Black Forest Torte (with narry a cherry in sight) arrived at our comfortable leather-lined corner boot table shortly afterward, dressed with a generous tablespoon or so of fresh-whipped cream and it was absolutely gorgeous. Oy! The layers of the cake were traditional "German chocolate" - not the devilsfood dark chocolate one typically sees in Americanized versions of Black Forest Torte. We were presented with two dessert forks. Oh, that attention to detail, such a crucial touch to a delightful dining experience. Ms. P and I chatted away and soon the dessert was gone, and we were full and happy, but we were not uncomfortably "stuffed." Neither of us wanted to go back to the real world of office and work. We were sad. But the check made us smile. For two ample, delicious and beautifully presented entrees, two glasses of wine and the shared dessert that was like eating a little bit of Heaven, the total bill was less than $45, including tax. We left a generous tip, and there was nary a nay-say from Ms. P, who is very particular when it comes to restaurant servers and service. Thanks for a lovely day, Ms. P. May be have many more. Ms. P and I shared a lovely toast. May it come true for us and our loved ones in 2010. I'm already anticipating our 2010 Ratzsch's luncheon :)