Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Schmeckt Gut im Wisconsin

For the first time in my life I was ordered to the great state of Wisconsin in late August on business. I'd lived three years in Chicago and had only traveled to the Land of the Cheese twice, once for dinner and once for a weekend at Lake Geneva. That dinner trip was to a German restaurant in Kenosha that a co-worker's family ordered. The most memorable thing about that trip was that the restaurant was in the same neighborhood as the Jockey underwear factory.

This time around my business was in Milwaukee, home of countless brands and traditions of beer in addition to at least Laverne, Shirley and the Cunningham gang. I was expecting one smoke belching factory after another lining the shores of Lake Michigan wedged in between row upon row of two-story brownstones. What I found was a surprisingly charming city with an attractive downtown area, upscale clubs and restaurants along the canal and row upon row of pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants along Old World 3rd Street. One highly recommended eatery on that road was Mader's German Restaurant.

Traditional German food is not for the faint of heart or the heart healthy so I wasn't expecting so upscale an establishment. Still, the old world, hardwood decor lined with the to-be-expected selection of animal heads, exposed beams and beer steins welcomed me warmly to a country I have long considered a second home. Waitresses in traditional bosom boosting dirndls flitted about the place bearing plates of food and flagons of beer - the only thing missing was the German language itself. Equally and thankfully missing was the polka band, which to me is always out of place anywhere other than a beer hall.

I had had a hankering for Cordon Bleu for the longest time and my taste buds were unequivocally set on the dish of pan-seared veal or chicken breast stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese. Imagine my surprise, then, when this signature dish was nowhere to be found on the menu. The other staples were there, including a hearty goulash, several varieties of sausages and schnitzels, rouladen and roast chicken but no cordon bleu. Imagine my delight when, upon sensing my consternation, the waitress returned to my table after telling the chef of my dilemma and informed me of his decision to prepare my request off-menu and from scratch!

For all of the things Mader's didn't have they truly have it where it absolutely counts the most: ultimate dining flexibility. The food was hot and plentiful with strong presentation and every measure of taste and flavor that I expected. With German food I don't want mild, subtle or suggestive hints of old world goodness. It has to be full bodied, robust and hearty to the last morsel, taking me back thru decades of good memories from nearly every corner of the country.

I went back to Milwaukee three weeks ago on business again for only one night. There was only one choice for supper that evening and this time, half an hour before closing time, the Wiener Schnitzel was even better than the Cordon Bleu.

Gotta go.

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