For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."
Last month I went to My Office for the first time and on the way there, I passed another Milwaukee icon that I realized I’d never even stepped into. The place is one of the oldest restaurants in town: Karl Ratzsch’s, 320 E. Mason St.
Though I like German food, I rarely find myself craving it and I always thought of Ratzsch’s as a special occasion place, except on special occasions, which I celebrated elsewhere. Talking to Andy Tarnoff about it, he realized he’d been there just once and probably 25 years ago.
So we decided, on a whim, to go for lunch one day. What I found was a place that looked pretty much exactly as I’d expected it to: studded leather-look chairs, exposed beam ceiling, white tablecloths, wood paneling and lots of German memorabilia and decor.
I loved the old-school vibe of the place, which has a private little dining nook off the main dining room and, upstairs, there are more dining rooms. I looked around the room and wondered which, if any, tables my grandparents and other family members dined at.
Our waitress was super-friendly – dressed in a dirndl, of course (it’s a loaner from Ratzsch’s, she doesn’t have one of her own) – and seemed happy to chat with two knuckleheads who had very little first-hand knowledge of her restaurant.
As I nosed around on a trip to the bathroom that I took mostly to, well, nose around, I found a cartoon wine map of Germany on the stairs, just in front of the large portrait of Mrs. Ratzsch that stares down on guests using the second floor. It showed one of the two towns in Germany from which my Milwaukee family hails (the other is too small).
I felt right at home.
And then my food came. I ordered the "German Style Pancake & Sausage Platter," which, tasty as it is, I’m not sure I’d recommend for just one person having lunch. For $11.95, you get an insanely giant and equally delicious super-fluffy apple pancake, dusted with confectioner's sugar, and the sausage of your choice, which, for me, was the knackwurst.
I could’ve easily made two lunches out of it, but, instead, I ate it all.
So, though I was hipped to the "secret" candy chest on the way out, I couldn’t even imagine eating even a single, mini Tootsie Roll.
Karl Ratzsch’s is a bit of classic Milwaukee and I’m glad it’s there. Moreover, I’m glad that pancake is there. I’ll be back to have another one, but I’m planning on getting half of it boxed up the minute it arrives at table.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.