Craving cheese? Want a little culture to go with it? The Ratskeller covers both.
Located in the lower level of Monroe’s Turner Hall, the Ratskeller is a historic Swiss-Emmenthal-style chalet established in 1868. In addition to the restaurant, Turner Hall also is home to a retro bowling alley and an elegant Grand Hall where a wedding reception was held the night we visited.
The Ratskeller—a German word meaning a bar or restaurant located in the basement of City Hall—is a sprawling restaurant with nearly 25 tables and a large bar area. Adorned with Swiss crests and quotes, it truly feels as if you are in the midst of the Swiss Alps.
Since Monroe is practically synonymous with cheese, we settled in for what we anticipated would be a feast highlighting local cheeses. We weren’t disappointed.
From the bar, I sampled an offering from the nearby Bullquarian’s brewery—17th Ave. Slush ($4.50). Fortunately, we had a beer expert along who described it as “malty” with low hops. It paired well with our “group size” cheese fondue appetizer ($18.95).
Cheese is very “gut,” and there are plenty of unique choices on the Ratskeller’s menu. The fondue was thick, but it was lightened by a hint of wine. Made with Gruyere cheese, wine, garlic and kirsch, it was served hot and bubbly with cubed, crusty bread. The dish was not only delicious but so fun to share with friends.
Dinners come with rolls, and they arrived ahead of our meals and were served with a wonderful honey butter. We tried not to fill up on all the cheese and bread, but it was an impossible task.
As we perused the menu, we decided to skip the traditional American offerings and instead go for the Swiss cuisine. There were many tempting choices, including several meatless entrees showcasing local cheeses. We noted that, on the second Tuesday of the month, the Ratskeller offers a Swiss buffet, which would be a great way to sample more of the specialty dishes.
The raclette ($6.95) caught our eyes, so we decided to try it. Gooey raclette cheese drizzled over hunks of red potatoes, served with cocktail onions and a gherkin pickle was rich and comforting. It is listed on the menu as a main dish, but it made a great side dish to pass around the table.
I ordered the sauerbraten with a side of spatzli ($17.95). The seasoning was wonderful: tender beef with gingersnap gravy. Why haven’t I tried this before? We took turns trying to decide on the spice in the red cabbage (it was clove) that took the dish to a whole new level.
Helene chose the kasechuechli, which is a Swiss cheese pie similar to a quiche ($9.95). The dish—a simple and delicious wedge of Swiss cheese, eggs and onions—was surprisingly flavorful considering the basic ingredients. The homemade crust was good, and the side of fresh fruit was refreshing.
Nikki ordered the kalberwurst ($15.95) veal sausage with a side of rosti ($2.95). The sausage was very mild tasting and had a smooth, fine grind. The accompanying onion gravy was chunky and gelatinous. Together, they provided a good balance to all the richness of the rosti—another decadent, cheesy dish. Served on its own plate, the thick, shredded potato and cheese pancake had a crispy, fried outer layer and was definitely worth the up-charge.
Not all that familiar with Swiss fare, it took Jennifer a while to pick her entree. In the end, she opted for the jagerschnitzel ($16.95): thin pork tenderloin cutlets lightly dredged in seasoned flour, pan fried and topped with creamy mushroom gravy. No knife was needed as the cutlets were tender and moist. With an abundance of rich, savory gravy, every bite was delightful.
Jennifer also chose spatzli as her side after our server described it as a cross between egg noodles with a scrambled egg consistency. The noodles were mildly crispy but moist in the center.
One of our guests ordered the Alpler macaroni ($7.95), which is Swiss macaroni and cheese, and reported that it was quite rich and filling. Our other tablemate broke from the Swiss cuisine mode and instead tried the Green County fish fry ($9.95)—one of the Friday night fish fry options that is available every day.
Swiss cream pie ($3.95) is the Ratskeller’s specialty dessert, so we got one we could share. It was beautifully light, and I could really taste the cream. It was a nice ending to an enjoyable evening.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.