Porter-Haus does most things right,
including the schaum torte

Ten years ago, many restaurants in the Milwaukee area served schaum torte for dessert. They were pretty much the same everywhere: a mound of ice cream, some berries and a thick blanket of whipped cream, all piled on top of a baked meringue ring.

In most cases, those meringue rings were as hard as plaster. You would have to bear down hard to break them, then they would shatter and shoot off the dessert plate and onto your clothes. I frequently described the whole miserable process in my restaurant reviews.

Then, a few years ago, an elderly reader called. Her voice had a tinge of German accent as she set me straight: "You know," she said "those schaum tortes you are writing about aren't suppose to be that hard. The way my mother made them, they were soft and creamy on the inside...and the didn't break apart."

I thanked her and told her I hoped that one day I would meet the type of schaum torte she had described. That day arrived last week when a friend and I stopped into one of Waukesha's newest restaurants, Eric's Porter-Haus. This was the kind of schaum torte, strawberry or raspberry, that my caller had described, so light that it dissolved into sweetness the moment it hit my tongue. Raspberries, vanilla ice cream and a small Matterhorn of whipped cream made one of the more vivid memories of two recent visits to Eric's.

Located in a building that formally housed an American Legion Post, the Porter-Haus opened in March of 1998. It's owner Eric Holm formerly operated Eric's on Breezy Point on Okauchee Lake with kitchen help from an old friend, George Schussler, who contributed several of the restaurants German recipes.

While I was a big fan of the old Eric's on Breezy Point, I liked the new restaurant even better for one big reason - steak. On one of two visits to the Porter-Haus, my dining companion ordered an eight-ounce filet mignon that arrived with a delicious dark crust. It was as tender and flavorful as any I have eaten anywhere.

Then there was the duck, made to Schussler's recipe, which had been a house special on Breezy Point. It was just as good as the Porter-Haus - a whole duckling slowly roasted to ensure a delicious, crispy skin and moist flesh underneath, served on wild rice with Grand Mariner orange sauce on the side.

The other two entrées were also delicious: Black Forest Schnitzel and a huge pork porterhouse simply called the Iowa. The schnitzel started with a large veal cutlet, pounded tender, breaded and sautéed, then topped with what Eric calls its jaeger mixture - a blend of bacon, onions, mushrooms and tomato. The layer of melted Emmethal cheese topped the schnitzel off; like the bacon, it added its own luscious flavor to every bite. We declined the offer of potato or rice with this dish. It was meant to be eaten with a German dumpling.

The pork was so thickly sliced that it looked like a small roast. Glazed with soy and a few other subtle seasonings, the pork had a deep colored crust, but was still pleasantly moist in the center.

Dinners at Eric's come with a slice-your-own loaf of warm, crusty bread and your choice of soup or salad. The lettuce salads had tomato, cucumbers,carrots, alfalfa sprouts, red cabbage and onions to brighten them; chicken soup was fresh and tasted homemade.

And as an appetizer, a blooming onion offered a nice alternative to the more familiar onion rings. Specially cut, battered and fried, the onions looked pretty on their serving plate and tasted great when we broke crisp pieces off and dipped them in a sour cream/onion mix.

In two meals, only two details were mildly disappointing: a slice of toast served with the filet was burned. And the rice that surrounded the duck was cold.

However, I found nothing wrong with the service or dessert. Yes, we liked the strawberry shortcake which was moist, fresh and heaped with lots of whipped cream.

But on my next visit, my server won't even have to tell me what's for dessert: I want another serving of that great raspberry schaum torte.