My cousin used to live in Milwaukee on the grounds of the Veteran's Administration Medical Center when he was the canteen manager there for over 15 years. Not far from where he lived was a German restaurant that he turned us on to - Kegel's Inn on National Ave. in near suburban West Allis. (see map) From the first time I went there a number of years ago, I thought Kegel's Inn had some of the best German food I'd ever had anywhere. Since I'd gone to Mader's in downtown Milwaukee earlier this summer, I decided to try Kegel's Inn for lunch on a recent visit to Milwaukee.
Kegel's Inn has been around since December of 1924 when Austrian immigrants John and Anna Kegel opened what was termed back then as a "soft-drink parlor" which in reality was a Prohibition-era speakeasy serving customers home-brewed beer and whiskey. A free meal of German sausages and other specialties was served to the people who ordered drinks.
After Prohibition was repealed, the Kegel's constructed a new restaurant at the present day site. John and Anna Kegel's son, John, Jr. ran the establishment from 1947 to 1955. His brother, George, and George's wife, operated the restaurant from 1955 to 1966. John Kegel, Jr. and his wife, Ruth, came back to run the place from 1966 until they retired in 1991. Today, Rob and Jim Kegel are the third generation of Kegel's to run the establishment. In fact, it was Jim Kegel who greeted me and sat me in the dining room when I stopped in earlier this summer.
The decor of the restaurant has a decidedly old world feel to the place. The bar area as you walk in features a long walnut bar with ornamental steins placed on a shelf over a couple of mirrored walls on the back side of the bar. Wooden-beamed ceilings hovered over antique lights with walls covered in old time paintings. Kegel's Inn has always had a cozy and inviting feel to the place.
As Jim Kegel seated me at a smaller table in the dining room, he asked if he could get me something to drink. I had finished all my calls for the day and decided that a cold beer would be good at that point. I asked for a Warsteiner, but I was informed that Kegel's Inn didn't carry Warsteiner. Jim Kegel said, "We have Spaten lager on tap." I said I'd have that. He dropped off a lunch menu for me to look at for the time being.
A waitress came back with the Spaten and said, "OK, so we have a bet. What part of Chicago are you from?"
I looked at her quizzingly and said, "I'm from the Quad Cities of Iowa. Davenport, to be exact."
She turned back to Jim Kegel and said, "He's not from Chicago!"
He came back over to the table and said, "Darn. I just lost 25 cents." He explained that Warsteiner was a very popular beer in Chicago and it really isn't in Milwaukee. "I can usually tell if someone is from Chicago either by the way they talk or if they order Warsteiner," he told me. "For some reason, Warsteiner doesn't really sell very well in Milwaukee."
I don't know. I don't think I've ever had a Warsteiner in Chicago. I think the first time I had it was in the Quad Cities a number of years ago.
The lunch menu at Kegel's Inn is smaller and not quite the same as their dinner menu. But the lunch menu still has a number of the staples that make Kegel's Inn so popular with the locals in the greater Milwaukee area - Roast Pork Shank, Stuffed Beef Tenderloin, Sauerbraten, Beef Rouladen. It's always difficult to figure out what to get when I venture into Kegel's Inn.
I ended up ordering the Sauerbraten with a side of Kegel's Inn famous red cabbage and a dumpling. For starters, I got a cup of their Chicken Dumpling soup. The lunch portions are much smaller (and subsequently cheaper) than the dinner portions, so I knew the lunch wouldn't sit heavy in my stomach.
Not long after I ordered, the waitress brought out the cup of Chicken Dumpling soup which was very good. And almost as soon as I finished my cup of soup she brought out the Sauerbraten, covered in Kegel's Inn homemade red wine and ginger gravy sauce. The portions of the Sauerbraten, dumpling and red cabbage were more than enough for a lunch time meal. Anything more and I would have wanted to take a long nap.
And the Sauerbraten was just as good as I remembered it to be. It had been quite some time since I'd been into Kegel's Inn and I silently wondered why as I eagerly ate my lunch. The Sauerbraten is marinated for 10 days, then oven roasted to give it extreme tenderness. The red wine and ginger gravy is an outstanding compliment to the meat. It was an outstanding meal.
Kegel's Inn may not be as famous as Mader's or Karl Ratzsch's, the two landmark German restaurants in Milwaukee. But I have to say that the food at Kegel's Inn rivals or even surpasses what I've had at Mader's in the past. I still need to try Karl Ratzsch's at some point - maybe during an upcoming trip to Milwaukee this fall. But pound for pound and dollar for dollar, it's tough to beat Kegel's Inn for great German food.