When the news broke that Karl Ratzsch had closed after 113 years, Milwaukeean Nick Berg posted a generous offer of many of the restaurant's recipes on his Facebook timeline.
The post garnered quite a few likes and piqued our interest, as well. So, we reached out to Berg with the hope of offering up a few recipes to share. Turns out, we hit gold.
"I collect recipes," Berg noted. "Especially those from in and around Milwaukee. The hobby began when my grandmother made one of her favorite dishes from a defunct restaurant from her childhood – she'd found the recipe in the old Sentinel and was so excited to share it with the family.
"The idea of experiencing the same dish that my grandma experienced when she was a child really struck me – it was like time travel. It was bringing memories back from the ether and making them real again. History's preserves.
Digging up the goods
Berg says he hunts down recipes in a variety of places, preferring old-school methods such as poring over books, hunting down clippings from newspapers and scouring libraries (including the Milwaukee Public Library’s historic recipe archive) and bookstores.
"Used bookstores are my favorite," he says. "They’re a goldmine. I recently found a copy of the old Boder family cookbook/scrapbook. I was reading it during my lunch break and my boss just happened to glance at it. She stopped dead in her tracks and stood there saucer-eyed, mouth agape.
"As it turns out, she and her husband held their wedding reception at Boder's back in the '70s and had not been back since. The book is filled with recipes for the dishes served that day, and she was so elated that you'd think she'd been hit by lightning. She photocopied nearly the entire book and went home to relive all of those great memories. See? Now that's what I'm talking about!"
The fruits of Berg’s passion can be found on a new blog he’s started called Cafe Nostalgia Milwaukee, where he’s sharing recipes he’s found from a variety of sources. Currently, the blog lists a number of recipes from Karl Ratzsch, including those for potato dumplings, Burgundy red cabbage, sauerbraten and liver dumpling soup.
Karl Ratzsch's Crackling Pork Shank
Recipe courtesy of former executive chef and co-owner, John Poulos.
1 fresh pork shank (about 2 pounds)
1 gallon cold water
2 teaspoons salt (divided)
1 1/2 gallons vegetable oil (must cover shank)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon rind (left whole or in large pieces)
1/2 orange rind (left whole or in large pieces)
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spice
Soak pork shank in cold water with 1 teaspoon salt over night. The next day, remove pork shank and dry. Discard water.
Pour oil into pot. Add meat then remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper flakes, lemon rind, orange rind, and pickling spice.
Turn heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until oil starts to simmer. Do not let oil boil. Continue to cook at a low simmer until done, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
When done, remove meat from oil and set aside. Cool oil slightly then strain. Return oil to the same pan and heat to 350 degrees. When oil is hot, add shank and fry until crispy outside, about 4 to 6 minutes. Serve with sauerkraut and dumplings.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.