German immigrants came to Milwaukee in droves during the mid-to-late 1800s, and as the city’s reputation as a beer town took hold, they often worked in the breweries for barons like Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and of course, Miller. Today, except for some well-known civic names and the occasional bar or restaurant, the German legacy has largely faded. Luckily, the food’s still here. At both German restaurants in downtown Milwaukee, diners can enjoy everything from schnitzel to sauerbraten and bratwurst to beer.
German Restaurants in Downtown Milwaukee: Mader’s
1041 N. Old World Third St.
Milwaukee, WI 53203
414.271.3377 (reservations recommended)
Chef: Shawn Monroe
http://www.madersrestaurant.com (just the restaurant)
http://www.maders.com (all their services)
Ask Milwaukee residents to name a German restaurant, and Mader’s is often their first answer. After all, it’s been in business since 1902. Though they added a new chef a few years ago who stirred up some of the cuisine and added a few non-German dishes, the focus remains on German favorites like Rouladen-style tenderloin served with spaetzle and the ever-popular weinerschnitzel. But everyone who visits Mader’s must try the sauerbraten, a showcase dish, marinated for over a week and served Rhine country style with almonds and raisins or Bavarian style with a ginger sauce (the way my own grandmother used to make it). In addition to the restaurant and catering business, the owners of Mader’s keep a gift shop and “gallery” on site, which starts to cross over into corny tourist territory with ugly hummel figurines and other baubles. The dining area itself remains decorated with expected German restaurant trappings, but it’s refined enough to be tasteful. Overall, Mader’s makes for a superb German meal in downtown Milwaukee, yet there’s a self-consciousness in the environs (and among the staff) that hinders the experience somewhat.
German Restaurants in Downtown Milwaukee: Karl Ratzsch’s
320 E. Mason St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
414.276.2720 (reservations recommended for dinner)
Chef: John Poulos
Almost as old as Mader’s, Karl Ratzsch’s was opened in 1904 on Water Street and now sits on a quiet block of Mason, almost hidden from pedestrian traffic. Inside, oil portraits mix with less gracious wall trinkets while stained glass mingles with semi-fussy chairs and booths. The atmosphere is somehow intimately casual yet vaguely refined at the same time. Like Mader’s, Ratzsch’s is on the pricey side. But I’d argue that the experience (most importantly, the food itself) is superior here. The sauerbraten and dumplings make for a heavy but oddly subtle meat and potatoes dish – it’s capped with a daintily sweet-spiced ginger sauce. Then there’s the roast duck, the schnitzels. and the Swiss-cheese-and-onion topped Spaetzle. At Ratzsch’s, diners find the more quietly authentic of German restaurants in downtown Milwaukee; they find a place whose charm is its effortlessness.