In CityBeat this week:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
There’s a swell of sound pouring out of Wurstküche – a steady hum of conversations all rushing together into a wave. It seeps out onto downtown streets from somewhere beyond the restaurant’s skinny hallway, a concrete and brick corridor that’s as reminiscent of the Smell rock club as it is any of the modern lofts nearby. But by the time you get close enough to sift out the voices, there’s something new underneath: the hiss of dozens of sausages sizzling on Wurstküche’s grill.
In its early months – and with construction carrying on well past its opening – Wurstküche had little room in which to build a reputation. Forced to operate out of the cramped quarters around the cash register, the restaurant felt like a cave – hungry people rubbing chilly hands and staring at flesh on a fire. Now, however, Wurstküche is complete – its creature comforts evolved to include a backroom bar where its sausages (and the slurred conversations that accompany them) have the kind of beer-garden atmosphere they deserve.
The space – nothing but concrete and brick – is still as basic as the menu, offering nothing but sausages and fries. Once you settle on a sausage, it’s tossed onto the grill and packed into a blackened bun to be topped with either sauerkraut, sautéed peppers or caramelized onions. (There are also five different mustards to dress your dogs.)
Old World options like bratwurst and kielbasa persist, but they’re on the menu only out of respect for tradition. Even in Wurstküche’s earliest months, the restaurant found its fame in two distinct schools of sausagery – the gourmet and the exotic.
Any of the sausages could qualify as gourmet – each sourced from a variety of boutique butchers – but those specifically highlighted supply exactly the unexpected flavors you’d hope for from such a specialized restaurant: sweet and hot mango jalapeño; Italian sun-dried tomato mozzarella; green-chile cilantro as sausage, not salsa. The stand-out Filipino marharlika is a pork link adapted from sausages introduced to the islands by Spanish conquistadors – it’s got the same slow-cooked sweetness as your favorite over-sauced pulled pork.
The exotic sausages all have interesting origins – alligator, rabbit, duck, veal, rattlesnake – but none feel ham-handed or hokey. The alligator is loaded into a bayou-bred andouille; the rattlesnake and rabbit are two links in the food chain in one link of sausage. Even the rattlesnake and rabbit, the top sausage for thrill-seekers, can fool patrons dedicated to pork. The last frontier, it seems, is for Wurstküche to take another slice at the pig and start serving bacon for some street-dog-Sonora-style sausages.
The restaurant’s double-fried frites are born plain but are made interesting by the dozen or so dipping sauces. Some of the sauces are either overbearing (the chipotle aioli) or undippable (the tzatziki has the texture of cold cream cheese), but others work wonders – the bleu cheese and bacon and curry ketchup should be additions to every fry-heavy menu.
Beer is a big deal here, and Wurstküche complies with two-dozen hard-to-find types (mostly Belgian and German) on tap. Like the rest of the restaurant’s menu, even the sodas – dandelion and burdock root brews and fruit-focused ginger beers – are impeccably sourced.
Because of its extensive beer list, eaters tend to linger here while they suck down an extra pint or two. The place thus fills up fast even on weekdays, leaving latecomers stranded in the corners like a pack of outsiders scanning the tables of a high school cafeteria. But plan things in advance and Wurstküche can even make a great date – it’s a simple and effective gastropub that’s attractive, regardless of the entendres involved in feeding a friend a hot snake sausage.
Wurstküche, 800 E. Third St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-4444. Open Mon.-Wed. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 11 a.m.-Midnight and Sunday Noon-10 p.m. Street parking. Beer. Food for two: $15-$30. wurstkucherestaurant.com.