Monday, February 19, 2007

Review: Sausage Fest!

The Sausage Shoppe
4501 Memphis Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44144

Pictures forthcoming, but for now enjoy this picture from their website with Tony Bourdain..

The first moments of entering a city are a magical thing. Coming into Chicago on Lakeshore Drive, your mind is awakened by the sudden appearance of the lake, the steadily heightening buildings, the new palette of colors and shapes that rule the landscape. You stare out each side of the car, flitting back and forth, eager to see what’s next as you race inward towards the heart of the city.

Now you’re in Cleveland. The suburbs. As your minivan pulls off of 480 you are stunned to find yourself in a small town called Old Brooklyn. Brooklyn! In Ohio! This is mighty promising. That little pulse of excitement is awakened in your veins, as you pass a few tire shops and then drive past a gas station. Then another gas station. Then one more! Then a few shady bars, a pizza’n’ribs restaurant, and a donut monstrosity called the “donut connection” that looks like one of the hatches on Lost. The street names are exotic, sporting names such as “Memphis” and “Brooklyn” and you start to sense the presence of greatness. Here, in this sleepy town of gas stations, donuts, and grayness there is a revelation, a portal into another world of tastiness unimaginable and occasionally unpresentable. Welcome to the heart of sausage, my friends.

The Sausage Shoppe is easily missed, as it appears to be a mostly unadorned 2 room house with an enlarged parking lot. The store itself consists of one large lengthwise counter with the meat, a freezerful of homemade sodas and jerky, and a wall of cabinets with European-style rolls, an assortment of sauerkraut and sauces, and imported chocolates. Within this small confine, there is a glorious intoxicating smell, smoky, garlicky, and sweet. My nose erupted in sniffles as soon as I entered the door, as the smoked smell (the sausages are all made in the adjoining room) mixed with the smell of the loads of hickory smoked bacon sitting beautifully within the counter. There is probably no better way to convey the sheer magnitude of meat combinations than a list of some of the options. Seriously, the online catalog has 401 options of sausages, pates, hams, ground beef, and perogies. These include a huge and seasonal assortment of bratwurst, fresh and smoked kielbasa, Leberwurst Pate, Smoked Leberwurst, Proski, or Mettwurst, a glorified Sheffler Ham, Blood or Liver Ring, jerkies, hot dogs, and of course hickory smoked bacon.

Since this was our first visit, me and the Beer-Battered Brothers tried to get a wide but basic assortment of goodies, opting for the fresh kielbasa with garlic, and four kinds of Bratwurst: Old Brooklyn (flavored with crushed red pepper and cayenne), White (with milk, eggs, and chives), German (with mustard seed) and the self-explanatory Beer.

I have always been a mostly content fan of sausage, but this assortment was an eye-opening shock into the true depths of flavors, textures, and levels of moistness to which sausage might aspire. The Kielbasa was intensely herby and juicy, with each puncture of the casing releasing a smooth garlicky liquid. The White shared this juiciness, but added an element of soft meltiness and creaminess, so that the meat texture was merely a base for the chives and milk. The German brat was utterly different, a firm chewy sausage whose flavor is distinctive and deep, with the echoes of mustard and a smoky aftertaste. The Old Brooklyn was siiiiick. With the most potent smell of the bunch, we knew it had to be fucking good. Slightly less firm than the German, the Old Brooklyn captured the same meaty texture but had more juice, so that each bite released a new wave of intense and fiery pepper, still with the rich depth and smoothness of the softer sausages.

We had jerky as an appetizer to this delicious meal, and it was terrically smoky and chewy. The most remarkable and common observation I had about the sausage shoppe is that they seem to have perfected the art of packing a small piece of meat (any kind) with intense moistness and flavor, and this was clearly the case with the jerky.

The sausage shoppe is no restaurant, and unless you want to eat some jerky or drink a soda there is nothing you can eat without a fire. So go home and cook, you lazy bums! We prepared our sausages in a bit of water, browned to perfection, served plain or on European-style brat rolls with some Dijon mustard or Yellow Mustard, depending on the flavor combo of the sausage. This is an amazingly fun and easy food to prepare, not to mention inexpensive, and there is something wonderful about eating intensely gourmet and complex sausages while watching Sportscenter.

The Sausage Shoppe has done something incredible, in perfecting a single craft of food-making. Dedication, passion, purpose, its all contained in each link, if you just look (or bite) closely! As I imagine our next trip on 480, hurtling down the highway, I can feel the goosebumps start to grow!

4 MMMs (out of 5)
They just do sausage, but they re-define it!

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