DELLS BUCKET LIST #13 - Going behind-the-scenes of the BRAT HOUSE GRILL

The tradition of eating bratwurst while drinking a beer has been an appetizing combination for almost a century. While this combo can be consumed in many Wisconsin bars and restaurants, having the opportunity to do so in a one hundred and sixty-two year old former church that some say is haunted most likely can only take place at Lake Delton’s Brat House Grill.

For the last five years the Brat House Grill has been serving a large selection of locally made custom brats, along with a full menu of other tasty selections ranging from salads to steaks, out of the area’s oldest public accessible building. Recently, I had the chance to spend an afternoon learning about this unique building, as well as a little history about the men behind-the-scenes of this popular restaurant.

Owner Steve Haupt, who’s originally from Ohio and had aspirations of being a rock star out of high school, ended up as a restaurateur in the Dells area nearly thirty years ago when he leased Lake Delton’s KFC, which he now owns. Having toured Wisconsin while playing trombone in a five piece band out of college, Steve explained to me what originally brought him to the area: “I played Madison, Rhinelander, and just thought it was a really pretty state and that the people were real nice. So that sort of attracted me to it.”

Steve purchased the property in January of 2000, then home to the Old Academy Antique Mall, after the local residents who owned it wanted to move on. While having no immediate plans for the building that was built in 1850 as a Baptist Boys School House and later becoming a Methodist church also used by The Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army after the Civil War), Steve knew it needed extensive repair and almost decided to level the place. He mentioned that the only thing that saved it was the beautiful Civil War memorial stained-glass window that’s prominently displayed: “I would have to say if it weren’t for that window, there’s a real good chance that I may have taken a bulldozer to this place and made it a parking lot!”

After an extensive remodel, he and a partner decided to turn the building into a coffee shop deli with computer workstations called the Highway 12 Internet C@fe. While successful, as technology started to catch up, Steve decided to go in a different direction. Another remodel later, he opened the Brat House in July of 2007. “I was just wanting to have a good restaurant, and the brat idea was kind of . . . well, we’re a tourist town. Bratwurst is the signature Wisconsin thing.”

While bratwurst is a staple of the state, the ones served at the Brat House aren’t the kind you typically find at the grocery store. Steve gets his from a small local meat packing house and mentioned that some are custom made exclusively for him, like the Wisconsin Beer Cheese Brat. “You can’t buy it anywhere else. It’s a real good brat. It’s real popular.”

During my tour, I had to ask about the rumors of the building being haunted. While Steve hasn’t personally experienced anything out of the ordinary, he did tell me that people who have an affinity for such things have mentioned that they’ve experienced a ghost of a little girl in the bathroom, as well as one of the previous clergymen still hanging around. “I’m a skeptic when it comes to such things, believing in science, but I’ve had enough people tell me things.”

Determined not to let any otherworldly priests or children scare me off, I moved on to learning more about some of the mouthwatering items on the menu. Eager to get in the kitchen for an up-close look at how things were prepared, I was greeted by Ted Kaminski, who’s been in the restaurant business his whole life, and general manger of the Brat House for the past three years.

Offering to demonstrate how to cook anything on the menu, I decided to see what went into preparing Ted’s current favorite, the German Brat Burger - which is a brat patty served on a pretzel bun, stuffed with sautéed mushrooms, onions, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a little Dusseldorf mustard. I never tried a brat in burger form before, but hearing this combination had my stomach rumbling in anticipation.

After watching Ted expertly blend the ingredients together onto the bun and add some fried cheese curds to the side, my plate looked to hold a very enticing meal. I asked him if there was anything left to do before digging in. Ted pointed to a gong which hangs above the serving line that’s used to let the wait staff know when food is ready. Not wanting to miss out on getting the full experience, I asked if I could give it a whack. Surprisingly, the loud sound it made was almost as satisfying as the delicious German Brat Burger was itself.   

The Brat House Grill is a full service restaurant and bar specializing in Wisconsin food and fun with live local entertainment on Saturday nights. For more information please visit

- Chris Dearman

*** I'd like to say thanks to Steve and Ted for taking the time to tell me about the Brat House Grill and showing me around the place, as well as bartender Robert Rogers for taking some of the pics. For more pictures, please visit the Dells Bucket List Facebook page here .