By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published Sep 08, 2008 at 5:43 AM Photography: Whitney Teska

Perhaps aside from Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee is best-known for its beer-drinking, sausauge-eating German heritage. And while there are remarkably few historic German beer halls left in our midst, the ones that remain tend to do a very good job with both the beer slinging and the food prep of traditional German dishes like duckling, wiener schnitzel and goulash.

Kegel's Inn, 5901 W. National Ave. in West Allis, brings with it the nostalgia of big wooden doors, leaded glass and ornate overhead light fixtures that scream German beer hall, and on one evening, a waitress who seemed to scream across the room, too.

Kegel's is a hard restaurant to pin down because two recent visits served up different experiences, one with OK food and service and a nice, relaxing atmosphere, the second with OK food and some of the strangest and loudest unprofessional service I have ever received.

Our server on the second visit was yelling drink orders across the room in what was, at most, a modestly bustling dining room, and was so frazzled she made odd errors like only bringing one warm roll for our table of two, and hurriedly filling one water glass and leaving the other bone dry. Add to that her audible auctioneering of all plates that came out of the kitchen, and it made what may have been an otherwise enjoyable experience exasperating.

Kegel's menu boasts some traditional German items including hasenpfeffer (braised rabbit, $18.95), sauerbraten ($16.95) and wiener schnitzel ($18.95), along with basic, pre-prepared appetizers like onion rings and jalapeno poppers. These modest entrée prices include soup (or tomato juice) and salad. The standard soup is a chicken dumpling (think spaetzle-like dumplings) and a soup of the day with the option to upgrade to the baked French onion for an additional $2.

Split pea with ham, chicken dumpling and French onion were all average, and the French onion was rife with beef broth, giving it a hearty, almost gravy-like flavor. Salads are basic mixed greens, and one night a salad arrived with what appeared to be good, homemade croutons. But the next visit, the salad was topped with the packaged variety, but still was fresh and pleasant.

A half-roasted boneless duck ($18.95) sounded too interesting not to try and was actually quite enjoyable with stuffing, a side of rice and a small plastic ramekin of gelled cranberry sauce.

Jumbo shrimp ($16.95) were of the standard breaded and fried variety and came with a baked potato (side options include baked potato, rice, French fries or spaetzle).

Beef goulash ($16.95) was the only real disappointment and only because the portion size was smaller than expected based on the menu's representation of the dish being "for the hearty appetite." The beef was tender and the sauce delicious, but the dozen or so morsels of beef were nestled between two somewhat small mounds of egg noodles, making the dish less than hearty.

I also probably should have tried the hasenpfeffer since it's not something typically found on Milwaukee menus. 

For the record, I did visit Kegel's during the Harley celebration, so our waitress' unprofessionalism may have been due to her unfamiliarity of having more than a table or two at a time on a normal Thursday evening.

But, despite the oddities, I must admit, I am strangely drawn back to Kegel's, which may be in part due to childhood memories of my paternal German grandmother drinking tomato juice to start a meal, but could also be due to my desire to try its famous fish fry, and to again enjoy the seriously beautiful, and what appears to be virtually unaltered, décor of the inn.

And besides, I love that they serve brats and Polish sausages "on a bun" for lunch.

Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.

The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.

Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to