Giddy with anticipation of a return fork-lifting at the Old Europe, our two young table-hoppers led the charge down the Rathskeller steps as the piano player struck up the chorus of that beloved German ballad, "O Danny Boy." All around us -- as before, and even going back to the medieval days of my childhood visits to this venerable feasthaus of Wisconsin -- there were the familiar family scenes: a grandma here, an uncle there and then a tiny kid trying to look smooth in a catsup-covered booster chair. Where else could these folks find such reliable cooking in hearty helpings, all topped with schmaltz? whether you're in a dine-with-stein or meat-and-potatoes mood, Old Europe is there with the goods, elegantly served in high-kitsch decor. We were swiftly mellowed with the traditional basket of dark breads, crackers and rolls, the perfect complement to our mugs of light Oktoberfest beer and colas. While the piano player drifted into the Bavarian version of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," the four of us got to the difficult task of confining our selections to one entree per person. The soup de jour, mushroom, $1.25, drew two takers. Our 10-year-old daughter and I each found it light but not watery, well mushroomed but not gooey and certainly not soup from a can. Our 12-year-old son requested goulash soup, $1.85, which was a rich blend. Like the piano player here, the chef doesn't seem to change his charts much over the years -- the basic fare is the same. It's just too bad to same can't be said to the prices, for they're up substantially from the tags of two years ago. Unless your idea of a good time is chopped steak for $5.85, your're looking at entrees from $6.65 and up. That's why 2 took only a nostalgic look at the listing of schnitzel cordon rouge, which was a marvelous pan-broiled steak stuffed with ham and cheese that I had enjoyed last time for $7.95. It was $10.25 this time, and that's out of our family ball park. There are two specials for children: a hot dog with french fries and a vegetable for $3.45, which was $2.50 last time, and a hamburger similarly garnished for $3.10, previously $2.25. But our kids like to seize on the meat that no one we know eats at home anymore: veal. They asked for wiener schnitzel without the optional anchovies, $7.75, and relished the response -- mounds of soft veal with lemon and crisp home fries. My wife tried the paprika schnitzel, $8.65, which is a center cut of veal cooked in butter with a paprika sauce. The sauce, unfortunately, is more like a tomato soup, and for some reason this veal wasn't nearly as good as that the kids had. I tried one of the specials, roast stuffed duckling with apple liver dressing lingonberries and baked egg noodle barley, along with some light french fries, $8.25. This gently braised bird was soft and wasn't stuffed with your basic bread-and-butter filling. Desserts, thanks to the not-so-sweet prices of sugar these days, are not always in our Family Out repertoire anymore. For the curious, however, we noted a tantalizing list of Germanic goodies, including apple strudel, $2.10, cheese cake with blueberries or fresh strawberries, $2.55, and blueberry shortcake with whipped cream, $2.80. Our self-appointed young delegate to the desserts tried the special, a chocolate cake with cherries, $2.10. After taste-bites, the volunteer help she got was overwhelming. The reckoning for our lavish banquet came to $4.85, more than we're accustomed to on these forays, but respectable for the family with a visiting relative in need of proper stoking. Places may come and go, but when it comes to food plus atmosphere, our kids remain staunch Old Europeans.
Hours: Mondays through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight; Sundays, 1 to 11 p.m.
Atmosphere: Hefty helpings of German specialties in a setting that fairly drips with old-world sights and sounds.
Price Range: Most entrees in the $6.65 to $8.65 bracket with a simple menu for children for $3.10 and $3.45. Credit Cards: American Express, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, Master Charge, Visa. Reservations: Not necessary.
Special Facilities: Main dining room accessible by wheelchair, but Rathskeller has steep steps. Booster chairs available. Free parking on a lot.