Before we begin, I’d like to outline a few life-lessons I’ve learned during my wiener investigation.
1. It is probably not safe to ingest any sort of wurst, schnitzel or what have you with less than a half-liter of beer (at least).
1a. I am willing to overlook the encyclopedic cultural and historical blunders of the German people throughout history due to the fact that any self-respecting German restaurant offers its beer in a half-liter, liter format.
1b. This is often a surprisingly difficult choice to make.
2. Either my parents were so blinded by love for me that they couldn’t resist shoving my fat 8-year dutch thighs into a pair of 50 year old lederhosen, or they hated me enough not to care about sending me to school like this.
3. Due to my own predominantly German heritage I can say whatever I want about my terrifying, terrifying countrymen.
3a. Frankly, they’re not so bad. I spent some time in Berlin and it was lovely. German’s very much enjoy art, modern architecture and do not even kind of employ or understand sarcasm. Think Williamsburg but 2,000 years in a sweet robot future, sans any sense of Irony.
3b. At the end of the day though, I will never think of Germans or Germany without thinking of this. Please someone go write a post-modern media critique of this fact, thanks.
4. It is literally impossible, as a heterosexual man, to write an entire article about (eating!) sausage without straying into vague homoeroticisms and questioning the very core of ones being. Thanks again, Project Chow. Readers: please bear with me. Anyone from Jezebel: stop judging, I’m trying here.
Wechslers, East Village, $6.00
Wechslers is basically like that tiny, eastern-european looking nerd kid who only starts getting respect in high school when everyone starts showering together. This is to say: small space, a ton of wiener for pretty good prices. No I am not sure how that last part fits into the metaphor. Lets move on. The point is this restaurant is tiny and is comprised of: brick walls, a grill, some taps, super limited seating, funny NYU-ish types who you order from and pay at the register etc. This place is literally the hourly-rate motel for beer and sausage: if you come here, you come here with a pretty well defined end goal that hopefully isn’t marred by fumbled apologies and a half-hearted offer to pick up the tab.
I ordered some currywurst and a half liter of the Ayinger dark (see wiener life-lesson #1) I sat down with my beer and awaited my food. Almost immediately my hair began to stand on end as I realized the fragments of conversation drifting over to me from the next table weren’t English but an avalanche guttural of ‘Gleepen-Gloppens’ from the world’s least pretty diabolical-clown language. Yea, German (see wiener life lesson #3)–Latvia, you got off lucky this time. The bottom line, score one for Wechslers for attracting an entire group of German tourists in the middle of the East Village with nothing but a fiery grill and your meats. Glückwünsche.
The currywurst itself comes in one of those cool little fry-boats, which seem to be a stable to this sort of food (except at Hallo Berlin, which we’ll get to). What you get is this: good, thick chunks of pork sausage (i.e. ‘wurst’) smothered in curry sauce and accompanied by some of the best damn fries I’ve had at any restaurant, and certainly out of any of the three venues in this review. To make a great thing better, they also ask if you’d like mayo for your fries. Obviously, yes. The dish is treated with a healthy sprinkle of curry powder for extra kick. Also you get a tiny little plastic fork for your chunks of barbarian pig flesh. Here’s the hint: this is late-night-drunk-guy-street-food, dummy. Considering this, the pricing weirded me out a little ($6 for a very small ‘small’ and $10 for a large).
So, the eating. The wurst itself is smooth and fatty with plenty of juice (#4, see?) and retains a delicious smokiness from the grill. A welcome side effect here is a slight taughtness to the casing that yields to the inside with a pleasant snap. Ironically, this sausage really will make you feel like a man. Once you bite down there is a little chew that almost fools you into thinking you are eating a whole dense cut of meat. As mentioned previously, the fries approach the golden-arched standard of excellence and are thin, perfectly salted, greasy (in the best way) and crunchy on the outside with a soft, buttery interior that is not even kind of mealy. I don’t know how they do this, but they do. Add mayo and you got yourself a deal. The dish falls a little short on the curry front. Though the dusting of curry powder is an awesome touch, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the sauce itself tastes a little like sweet ketchup with a vaguely Indian kick at the end. Its redeeming factors include a little bite and a nice textural thickness. It made me sweat through my shirt, which no one hassled me about. As I was leaving, my waiter asked if I had “enjoyed the Wurst, bro?” Indeed I did.
I give Wechslers 5.7 WWI era Pointy Helmets
Hallo Berlin, Theater District, $7.00
In contrast to the cultural etcetera’s Wechsler’s can pin on it’s tiny lapel, Hallo Berlin sits firmly in the bowels of midtown, across the street from a large and busy gas station and is patronized by the world’s new equivalent of third reich Germans: Bridge and tunnelers congregating for sexually tense and pheremonally dense after office hang out time. The crowd here is indeed strange. A man sitting at a table next to mine excused himself in order to go “wash his paws”. The decor is kitschy in a way that is refreshingly not self-aware or ironic. A sign proudly announces that their house wine is Jagermeister. In short, I think the average tight-jeans wearing unnecessarily mustachioed half-man from an outer burrough could only survive about 15 minutes here before asphyxiating, which for me is a plus.
After about thirty minutes of watching me while she drank her coffee an absurdly friendly Indian waitress came over to simultaneously give me a menu and take my order. She interrupted my halting explanation of the vagaries of temporal causality by pointing to the beer list (again filled the mandatory and absurd encyclopedia of unpronounceable brews in awesome sizes) and asked me if I ever bleach my hair. Touché. I ordered a cabbage and sauerkraut salad, which, in case you missed it consists of: cabbage, topped with more but slightly older cabbage. The Germans are not a subtle people. I also got some currywurst. It comes on a bun, which is essentially a slightly larger version of a sesame dinner roll in appearance and texture, which is a tactical mistake I’ll address in a minute. The whole thing is topped with curry sauce that mixes nicely into the wurst chunks as well as red and white shredded cabbage. The bun, while tasty, disappointed me for structural reasons. It couldn’t deal with the sogginess of the sauce/cabbage combo, nor could it accommodate the heft of the wurst. I am not a discerning diner and I like when stuff falls apart as I eat it–but this was a little sloppy. The curry sauce had a unique mustardy spice that melded excellently with the wurst and the vinegar in the cabbage. The bite lingered, despite being disguised by an initial sweetness, blooming later in the throat and even making me cough a little. I like this. The wurst itself, I noted drunkenly, was “just a good ol’ meat tube”, which in retrospect I take to mean that it had a nice butteriness without being overly salty. Frankly, the whole thing tasted like a thick, well cooked hotdog with plenty of juice.
I give Hallo 2/3 Iron Crosses.
Radegast, Williamsburg, $8.75
So, yes: wah, wah, wah Radegast is an over-hyped Williamsburg hot spot. I have never subscribed to the philosophy that being well liked makes an inherently good thing somehow worse. If the corollary were true I would be an incredible person. I am not. The thing is, Radegast is unabashedly cool, if a little bit pricey. What you pay for though is: unbelievable and professional service (often rendered by attractive young women in Oktoberfest uniforms—look up actual name), a really large space with great music that still beats the funkenshenfreude out of those places in Queens and really, really good food.
At night when general general drinkery prevails you can still get quality meats from the surly gentleman manning the grill at the back of the beer hall. Please take your time to peruse the vast and complimentary mustard selection, including a Radegast house blend and wonder why this is so rare in other German spots. There is also one variety of ketchup. This is because ketchup is the stupidest condiment ever. Anyway, in a departure from the theme of this article I ordered a weisswurst because 1)I am a suprising, dynamic man and 2)they didn’t have currywurst. Weisswurst is a living thesis as to why Germans are an incredible people. The sausage, which looks a little bit like the brain bug from starship troopers sans uncomfortable vagina-face, was originally made early in the morning to be eaten in case of hunger before noon. To be clear: this is a sausage that was made early in the day in anticipation of later snacking needs. The German’s perfected a specially designed snacking sausage. Sit with that for a bit. This thing came in a cool paper tray too, with fries. The fries themselves suck. Smaller versions of homefries, they are sort of mealy and thick on the inside. Whatever. The sausages came in a linked pair, with sweet grill marks and innards that can actually slip free of the casing. This is where things get interesting because the weisswurst is initially terrible. Imagine eating a giant white larva whose dense watery insides had the texture of wet-cardboard pulp. The thing is, with a little of perseverance and mustard, those dense water insides undergo a miraculous transformation, aided by a complex aftertaste that is slightly bitter, yet meaty, that becomes strangely addictive with each bite. Try it with the german mustard and some horseradish.
I give Radegast one entire funny mustache.