Chow Down In Milwaukee

Restaurant Reviews

Kegals Inn

I have always been a fan of history. In specific, I have always enjoyed the roaring 20’s and depression era culture. I am also interested in places that accent a specific culinary culture. It is with this in mind my lovely lady and I joined our friends Jen and Nick at Kegel’s German Inn. Located in the heart of the city of West Allis at 5901 w. National Ave.

Kegel’s first opened its doors in 1924. It has been family owned ever since. Kegel’s Inn was a prohibition-era speakeasy. The owner John brewing beer in the basement and his wife Ruth carried flasks of whiskey that were carried in her sown-in pockets. For quite some time things ran smoothly as Kegel’s was in a mostly German neighborhood and the stained-glass windows made it hard to see what was transpiring inside. That all came to an end on the first of May in 1927 when state agents raided Kegel’s Inn and busted Anna Kegel with several ounces on intoxicating liquor. With a good lawyer and a. good deal of luck her arrest was thrown out. Wisconsin ended its official enforcement of prohibition in 1928 and their establishment was allowed to continue. In April of 1933 a grand expansion was began. A little over a year later Kegel’s Inn, as it was renamed, included 5 apartments and a restaurant.

My grandfather used to be best friends with one of the late owners John Kegel. Currently run by his great-Grandson Julian Kegel, not much has changed at this establishment. Designated as a West Allis landmark, you will notice this is not your average restaurant before you even walk through the doors. Large period murals grace the outside of the building. Most of them center around the art of brewing and the fun and frivolity of German culture.

Once you walk through the door you are taken back to the past. You find yourself facing a grand bar, the kind they just do not make anymore. It was said the bar at Kegel’s Inn was the longest solid piece of mahogany west of Philadelphia for many years. Behind the bar you will find a great selection of German beers and classic supper club cocktails. We were immediately greeted by the current owner Julian Kegel, great grandson of original owner George. There are more murals to enjoy inside that were a part of the 1933 expansion. They were painted by a German-born artist Peter Gries and took more than 7 years to complete.

Our waitress, who seemed a bit hurried but was very friendly, came to take our order. We were all excited to choose from the menu’s many offerings. At Kegel’s, meals include both soup and salad. We all chose the cream of mushroom soup. The soup had a thin texture, but a very earthy flavor. We each decided to choose different dishes as to experience the most this fabulous authentic German restaurant had to offer. My lovely lady Margie ordered the Half Boneless Roasted Duck. It is one of the house specialties ad is served with homemade stuffing and a side of cranberry sauce. Both sides were very excellent and tasted as if they had just been prepared for thanksgiving dinner. Usually I am a bit leery of duck as it tends to be heavy and greasy. This duck, however, was quite a pleasant surprise. The batter was light and crispy, and the meat was far from greasy.

Jen ordered the Hassenpfeffer or marinated rabbit stew. At their yearly Octoberfest bash I had ordered a cold hassenpfeffer wrap and was a bit taken aback by the overwhelming gamey flavor. The warm stew we had this evening had a very pleasant taste very close to a juicy chicken breast, with only the slightest gamey flavor. It was served over a bed a spaetzle and reminded me of a cross between chicken pot pie and chicken dumpling soup. It was by far my favorite meal we tried.

Nick ordered the Baked Salmon. It was prepared with a house marinade and hollandaise sauce. Served with your choice of 12 offered sides, it was a light but pleasant offering. The salmon was done to perfection and the flavor of the marinade was tangy enough to balance the fishy flavor of the salmon. A solid choice, but with so much other unique offerings on the menu I would have made a different selection.

I ordered the Saurbraten. It was described as being marinated for 10 days and then sliced into a vinegar ginger snap sauce. I was told it was served with a potato dumpling and red cabbage. When it came I was surprised by how thinly sliced the meat was. My first taste revealed that the gravy was quite heavy on the vinegar. The meat was tender and delicious. Normally, I am not the biggest fan of dumplings, but much like the spaetzle, they had this down to a science. It was moist enough to cut with a fork, but in no way underdone. The red cabbage was also perfect. My only quarrel is that it provided even more of a vinegar flavor to a dish that already had plenty.

The price point at Kegel’s Inn is a bit high for dinner. You do receive both soup and salad at dinner verses just a cup of soup at lunch. The lunch menu has a price point about half of what the dinner menu is and may be the best place to start for a beginner.

Overall, the service was fast, friendly and efficient yet a bit hurried. The ambience was cozy and had the old-world German charm we were looking for. It would have been better accompanied by some period German music instead of the top 40 radio station that was playing. Kegel’s Inn is a buried treasure of authentic German cuisine buried in the heart of West Allis that is worth adding to your list of places to go for a special occasion.

By: Neil Panosian

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