Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Milwaukee Interlude

I am a Wisconsin boy but I live far from the North woods now. As a result, I was very happy to be able to travel to Milwaukee on business earlier this year. It was a short stay and I did not have much time to explore a part of the state that was virtually unknown to me.

There is a simple reason for my lack of contact with Milwaukee [and with the only other really "urban" part of the state--Madison]. We woods dwellers could conceive of no reason why we would want to travel "down state" to the city. People go to cities and don't return. Things happen to them there. Or, in the wonderful expression I learned from my father-in-law when I moved South, I "hadn't lost anything down there". Luckily, I now have sufficient experience with urban areas that I am not intimidated by going to them. Plus, a lot of the great restaurants and almost all the great saloons are in cities. By the time I arrived in the Badger State, however, a blizzard was arriving and I was weary from consecutive weeks of winter business travel. Feeling a bit sorry for myself. You know the mind-set. To combat this fugue, I applied the Epic technique of noticing the little things. And of finding a great restaurant. Typically, these two efforts saved my trip.

The airport in Milwaukee is friendly and nice. It has very pretty brass inlays in the floors showing different parts of the state and icons signifying things about Wisconsin history. Canoes, for example. Fish. BEARS. And the really nice arrowhead shown at the head of this post.

The downtown area is similarly user-friendly. When there is snow in the air, you are on a short stay and in a fugue, only good food and drink will suffice. When this occurs in Wisconsin, only German food will do. There is a particular restaurant that I planned on visiting during my visit because it was famous even when I was a child for very good German food. Karl Ratzsch's. This place is AUTHENTIC. You can tell from the doors...

Another [unfortunately] fuzzy photo from the Epicographer...

The interior is what one would expect a Bavarian hunting lodge to look like. If one were at the lodge of a very top-drawer Bavarian. Think lots of steins. And horns. I was going to break my rule and take a photo inside the dining room but I was afraid of setting off a stampede. Hell, this may actually BE a Bavarian hunting lodge taken to pieces and reassembled in America. Do not mistake me on this. You ARE dining in an old-school German restaurant in Wisconsin. You do not expect nor want glass and chrome decor with techno-glam music in the background. The Bavarian decor adds a lot to the dining experience and to your ability to imagine yourself in the deep, snowy woods feasting during a long winter's night. Exactly what you want when dining on a selection of delectable treats like Konigsberger Klopse, meatballs in lemon caper cream sauce, [certified by a companion as as good as his grandmother's] and Beef Rouladen with potato pancakes [certified by me as fantastic]. Bring your appetite though. The "lighter fare" on the menu includes a sausage sampler. And since you are not that far from actual dark, snowy woods, the decor and cuisine combine to result in a very cozy and satisfying dining experience.

Everything I tried at Ratzsch's was very good. All washed down with multiple steins of fantastic German beer previously unfamiliar to me. This beer was also the real item and got better with each stein. An odd thing. I find that ALL beer gets better after multiple steins. Anyhow, for dessert, another diner said that the apple strudel was better than he had eaten in Munich the week before. It certainly looked good. Uncomplicated, light and fresh with lots of apples and a generous dusting of powdered sugar. The expression on this fellow's face as he was eating it confirmed his delight. The coffee was very strong and fresh. Just the thing to accompany a little glass barrel of Jagermeister.

You do not need to do much research to confirm how good Ratzsch's is. You need go no farther than to apply my fool-proof test of a great restaurant immediately upon looking at the KR menu and it would pass with flying colors. When the after dinner drink list includes the venerable but rarely seen entries Brandy Alexander, Grasshopper, Pink Lady and Golden Cadillac, you are in a great joint. Better to add a "first appetizer" course and lay in a Golden Cadillac or two. Then on to the meatballs and a "light" sausage sampler. Then a Rouladen. And a Strudel. Or a Schaum Torte.

The next morning, I was still in a gourmandine hangover when I got back to the airport on my way out of town. I felt sorry that I could not stay longer in this very welcoming city and have at least one more go at the Karl Ratzsch menu. And those Grasshoppers and Brandy Alexanders. But it was not to be. Just as I felt the gloom of a truncated visit descending, I saw a sign in the airport just past the TSA checkpoint. A sign the likes of which I have never seen before. I do not think another sign like it exists anywhere. I just stood there and laughed out loud...

Precisely what I needed. Recombobulation, indeed.

I had a marvelous visit to Milwaukee and I cannot wait for a return trip. To recombobulate in my home state. You see, my father-in-law was wrong. I had lost something in Milwaukee. And somewhere during my forty hour visit, I found it again.


npmaslow said...

Brings back memories - the other old school German place remaining in Milwaukee is Mader's http://www.madersrestaurant.com/ - right across from Usinger's. It's a little bit 'fancier' , but that's relative -they're both pretty laid back places.

M.Lane said...

Nicholas, thanks for the visit and the comment! I will check out Mader's the next trip up.


initials CG said...

ML, Great place! Went there a few times in the late 90's, and crawled out stuffed like a swine and very buzzed. Great food, and great beer. Even if you don't like beer (yes, these people exist,) German beer is something totally different. Like wine, you accompany them with different dishes. Worth it.

Glad to know it is still there!

M.Lane said...

CG, I can relate to "stuffed like a swine and very buzzed". Seems the litmus test for a great German joint. Thanks for the visit and comment!!!


CashmereLibrarian said...

I've been to Madison many times and even to Wausau and Eau Claire, but I've never been to Milwaukee and have never really seen a reason to go. But this is rather appealing. (Actually I've heard the Summerfest is pretty awesome too.)

M.Lane said...

CL, I have never been to Madison. I lived in Wausau for a year in 1974 and went to High School there too my freshman year. I loved it there. I loved the H.S. also. I haven't been back since, but I would like to visit. I'm told it is a LOT different now with lots of fixing up of the downtown etc. The city web site looks pretty too.