A Moment From 100 Years Ago

A smiling, white-haired gentleman greets me and I give him the name of our party. “Oh, you’re having lunch with my good friends today. Welcome.” The dining room has plenty of dark wood, lit by stained glass and low lights. Nearly every bit of wall space has either a German artifact or a framed photo of a celebrity, some long forgotten, who enjoyed the authentic German cuisine at Karl Ratzsch’s some time over the last 111 years.

Karl ratzsch2

My friends arrive with excited greetings and hugs. They sit down and share their history with me. Their first date was at that table there, 45 years ago. The smiling gentleman who greeted me? He’s been a waiter here for 35 years. The owners, who took over from the Ratzsch family in 2003, have been working behind the bar and in the kitchen just as long. The conversation turns to dogs and gardens and confrontations with a raccoon in the yard. We decide to order.

The soup of the day is cream of mushroom. The every day soup is consommé with liver dumplings. It’s amazing; earthy, rich, unique. The spinach salad following has a hot bacon dressing that actually tastes “fresh”. That doesn’t sound right, but there isn’t the fatty mouth feel you can get with a hot bacon dressing yet all of the flavor. This is classic food, prepared in a way to remind you why it became classic. Then there is the sauerbraten. Oh dear heavens.

Karl Ratzsch

I’m a fan of sauerbraten. We’ve shared our recipe here. This version is fall-apart tender with an authentic gingersnap gravy, the meaty richness balanced by the tang of vinegar, cooked down together for hours. The accompanying red cabbage has the perfect texture and flavor. We’ve also shared our red cabbage recipe. Here is my advice, go eat at Karl Ratzsch’s if you can. Only try to make your own if you can’t get there. This is wonderful, wonderful food. I’m enjoying it with a Köstritzer Schwarzbier.

We continue to talk and enjoy the meal. A few other parties come in, a few parties leave. I feel like I’m eating in my great grandma’s living room, in the very best way. I feel like family. As we leave I take a moment to adjust to the afternoon sun. I look up to the clock on City Hall. It seems we were there for over two hours. It was a moment, a moment completely out of time, a moment from 100 years ago. This is history. This is inspiration.

Reflections on Sauerbraten


Inspiration can come from anywhere. At a recent used-book sale, I stumbled across this 1936 publication by Culinary Arts Press of the “Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book: Fine Old Recipes” and decided it was time to try a traditional Sauerbraten which I had been considering for some time. Here is the recipe:


I started with a 2 lb. chuck roast and adjusted accordingly on volumes but retained the spice levels. Then into a non-reactive container in the fridge for four days. The result:


The marinade is strained and saved. The roast is patted dry and then seared over high heat to brown all sides. The roast is removed from the pan and thinly sliced onions and carrots are added, sauteed until golden, then the roast is returned to the pan. Then the marinade is added to the pan along with beef broth and allowed to simmer for 2 hours until tender. At this point, I deviated a bit from the traditional recipe. I removed the roast and kept it warm in the oven. I strained the cooking liquid and added the carrots to the roast. I used the onion to cook thin ribbons of lacinato (Tuscan) kale, dried cranberries, and wine. The traditional recipe calls for adding “crumbled gingersnaps” to make a gravy.  Instead, I added ginger, clove, and molasses to mimic the flavors and thickened the liquid with flour for a simple gravy. The side dish was a serving of buttermilk spaetzle with a generous amount of Edelweiss Creamery’s Triple Cream Butterkase.


The Butterkase from Edelweiss is rich and creamy with just the slightest hint of something a bit grassier, fuller in the flavor.  Very mild, but added to the buttermilk dumplings it added just the right richness in texture and flavor to contrast the slight tang of the gravy. The kale offered a contrasting texture and bitterness.

The tang of the sauerbraten was not overly pronounced in the roast, but the gravy carried those flavors through the dish.  The meat was more tender than a traditional pot roast and lead to thoughts of shredding the leftovers and stuffing a periogi or dumpling. Good eating and more inspiration.