The drive from Milwaukee along the shore of Lake Michigan to Jack Pandl’s is worth the trip just to view the scenery. The lake is beautiful and mansions at water’s edge are an extravagant array of sturdy Midwestern design and old-money style.
Pandl’s is a cozy Bavarian lodge house decorated with beer steins, staffed by waitresses in dirndl skirts. The menu is pricey by our usual standards, and your fellow diners will include a large portion of bluehairs who have been coming here for lunch seemingly since the restaurant’s opening in 1915. It isn’t a fancy place – bare tables are set with paper placemats – but it has an old-world gentility that makes meals seem at least semi-formal.
The kitchen’s repertoire includes all manner of steak, seafood, and salad; but we come for a few distinct menu items that are heart-and-soul Wisconsin. A frequent daily special is liver-dumpling soup, a homey broth filled vegetables and with one dark, tender dumpling. You can always get a plate of walleyed pike or, better yet, broiled whitefish; the latter is a pretty fillet that is toasty-sweet, cream-tender, and satisfying in a way that only lake fish ever is. The one necessary thing to eat at Pandl’s is the German pancake – a baked ‘cake similar to Yorkshire pudding that rises up in the oven to form a huge, eggy trough into which you sprinkle powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon to form a tart-sweet syrup.
For dessert, Pandl’s offers schaum torte, an appealing bowl of sweetness in shades of white, pink, and red. Pure, crunchy meringue is topped with ivory smooth custard and a spill of strawberries in syrup. The harmony of textures and varying degrees of sweetness make schaum torte a pleasure from first bite to last.