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Prost, Elkridge: German-influenced restaurant Rathskeller shows potential to enliven the area

Rathskeller is overflowing with an abundance of merriment, nods to its German roots and ambience. Too bad it’s lacking when it comes to food.

This isn’t to say that the food is bad. There simply isn’t enough of it.

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When we arrived at the cozy basement bar and restaurant located in the home of a former judge from the 1880s, we knew that the menu was limited to about 15 items (including dessert).

We were quickly told that the restaurant was out of potato cakes. That was troubling because we arrived a half hour after it opened for the day. Our server also informed us that their French fries would not likely be available due to the fact that they hadn’t been prepped. Yikes! I suddenly knew what it felt like to be one of those customers waiting in line for a chicken sandwich at Popeye’s.

Upon further inquiry, French fries were available. They just took an additional 20 minutes to prepare.

French Fries with Curry Ketchup and Beef Wiener at The Rathskeller in historic Elkridge.
French Fries with Curry Ketchup and Beef Wiener at The Rathskeller in historic Elkridge. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

I hope Rathskeller succeeds. But basics like having enough of popular items on a limited menu will need to be addressed before this can become a destination spot.

After I calmed down from the lack of starchy sides, I turned to the other appetizers, which meant only a handful more options.

The cucumber salad needed to sit on the plate for a good 10 to 15 minutes before it truly absorbed its creamy dressing. At first bite it tasted disjointed. But after it came together, the ingredients stopped fighting each other and resulted in a light, flavorful bite.

The Donner Kebab was essentially a soft pita that accompanied well-seasoned yet overcooked meat. It didn’t wow me.

The beef wiener was serviceable. The meat was topped with a generous slathering of curry ketchup, sauerkraut and mustard. Although pleasing, I felt that I’ve had equally impressive wieners at a baseball game.

I will say that the wiener roll was outstanding. The bread at Rathskeller is stellar. All of the rolls are soft, flavorful and perfectly baked. Well, almost.

The soft pretzel wasn’t all that soft. It was tough and overly chewy. The appetizer was salvaged by the scrumptious mustard cheese that came with it. I could have consumed that sauce by the gallon.

Chicken Schnitzel at The Rathskeller in historic Elkridge.
Chicken Schnitzel at The Rathskeller in historic Elkridge. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

The seasoned breading for the chicken schnitzel was fried perfectly. The honey mustard that came with it was well-balanced and resulted in a memorable dish.

The French fries were worth the wait. They weren’t too thick or thin. And they were fried perfectly — just the right amount of crispy outside and soft potato inside. The curry ketchup made another appearance, this time as a dipping sauce. I could see why the restaurant ran out of the dish earlier in the evening.

The rainbow trout, one of the highlights of the meal, was cooked perfectly and well-seasoned. But the greens, soft herbs and radish that was dressed in a delightful champagne vinaigrette, overpowered the dish. The vegetation was heaped atop the meat — almost smothering it. It was bad for presentation, and it was annoying for eating purposes.

With its wood fixtures that date back to the buildings origins, intimate booths, family-style tables and antique stained glass, Rathskeller aims to resemble a German beer hall. But this feels more elevated than that with its gorgeous Tiffany & Co. chandelier anchoring the center of the room.

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The restaurant has six beers on draft, all German. An addition nine canned beers, including an English cider, were also available.

The Bitburger, a pilsner from Germany, had a nice golden color. It was an interesting blend of herbs, hops and a hint of sweet, almost like honey. The Rauchbier Schmoke by Maryland’s own Union Craft, lived up to its name with smoky smell. But the lager was actually medium to mild in taste — also with a hint of sweet — surprisingly smooth.

Exterior of The Rathskeller in historic Elkridge.
Exterior of The Rathskeller in historic Elkridge. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

The cocktails were good — but not great.

My Golden Pear cocktail — a combination of tequila, pear nectar, lemon, honey and cinnamon — lacked pear flavor and was borderline medicinal.

The other, a bourbon, blackberries, Jaegermeister and spiced bitters concoction called the Black Forest, was strong as promised. That was my favorite of the two.

Another puzzling thing about the restaurant was the service.

Our original server vanished without explanation and began giving a neighboring table attentive service. We had to flag down a manager who eventually became our server. And while he was excellent, the initial disappearing act was odd.

Overall, I’m glad Rathskeller is open. Elkridge needs it. There’s a dearth of decent, distinct restaurants with artisanal cocktail programs and specialty beers in the area.

Rathskeller can be a destination spot if they beef up the menu, improve the consistency in service and iron out some of the kinks.

Rathskeller

5782 Main St., Elkridge. 410-862-2518 or rathskellermd.com

Cuisine: German

Ambience: Homey German beer hall.

Service: Spotty.

Reservations: Yes.

Parking: Lot and street.

Special diets: Can be accommodated.

Handicap accessible: Yes.

Prices: Appetizers $8 to $10; entrees $10 to $23.

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