My husband wanted to plan a special evening for Valentine's day and made reservations in advance. We were a little surprised when he called to confirm they were open - big snowstorm this week - and they asked if he was Mr. Caudill. Were we the only ones with reservations on Valentine's day? Hmmm, Not a good sign. We arrived early. The hostess sat us at a small table. The menu confirmed we were at Hazel River (not Rathskeller). We moved downstairs to find they had a table set, waiting for us. There was another couple in front of the fireplace and a few folks at the bar. It was warmer downstairs, but the lack of customers caused us to wonder if we'd made a huge mistake.
Our fears were quickly relieved when our server, Christian, greeted us. You can't miss Christian, he's 6' 8" tall.. Christian reviewed the specials and suggested one of the wheat beers. It was delicious. He brought us a small plate of thinly sliced rye bread and some sort of spread while we waited for our appetizer. We were hungry and it was delicious. We had Alt Deutscen Kartoffel Salat Mit Speck (German potato salad) for an appetizer. We topped with some homemade mustard and it was out of this world. Next came our entrees. I had one of the specials - don't recall the name. It came with 2 nice sized sausages, green beans, and sauerkraut. It was wonderful. My husband ordered Hausegeraucherte Kasseler Mit Apfel Sauerkraut (smoked pork). The smokey flavor really came through on the pork and we enjoyed the 2 types of sauerkraut. For dessert, we ordered German chocolate cake and a baked apple dumpling, stuffed with raisins. While the apple could have been a little softer, it was very good.
Despite other reviews, we found the portions to be adequate and a great value for the price. The pace was relaxed, i.e., we spent 3 hours over dinner - comparable to what we've experienced in European restaurants where meals are something to savor. Christian entertained us with stories of his life in Germany and ghostly encounters in the restaurant. Although we tried, the only spirits we conjured arrived in glasses (Crystal wheat beer).
In summary, we really enjoyed the Rathskeller. Our server was fabulous, the food was great, and the setting - quintessential old world charm. If I had any suggestions for the owners it would be -- keep Christian (he is amazing) and replace the plastic flowers with real ones, like you have upstairs. For folks looking for a casual relaxed dining experience -- with great food and prices - you may not need reservations -- but you simply can't beat Rathskeller in Culpeper.
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