A Temple to German Sausage at Wechsler's Currywurst & Bratwurst
It's always the humble foods that worm their way into our hearts. Displaced New Yorkers don't miss Per Se—they miss their neighborhood pizza place. The Quebecois yearn for poutine, and Californians long for proper tacos. And all this time, Andre Wechsler dreams of currywurst.
Currywurst is so beloved in Germany that there's a Berlin museum entirely devoted to the saucy, porky snack, and 82 million Germans manage to consume nearly a billion currywurst every year. There is heated debate over where the snack was invented—most say post–World War II Berlin, but there is reportedly a Hamburg currywurst club, dedicated to spreading the good word that the delicacy was first made by a local woman there.
Regardless of where it was first concocted, currywurst generally consists of a grilled or fried pork and veal sausage, sliced, topped with a zesty, ketchup-based sauce, sprinkled with curry powder, and served with tiny plastic or wooden forks to spear up the drippy bites. Wechsler, a Hamm native, left a career in finance to open up his tiny ode to sausage in the East Village, the straightforwardly named Wechsler's Currywurst & Bratwurst. And, for the record, he thinks currywurst was invented in Berlin.
In the former Casalinga space, Wechsler has created a tiny, bare-bones but jolly pub, the brick walls decorated with his family's crest and a large 1892 photo of his great-grandparents in their Bavarian butcher shop. You order your beer and sausage at the bar, where four brews are on tap (another eight or so are available by the bottle), and then plunk down at one of the two small communal tables or on a bar stool.
The restaurant is dedicated to high-quality sausages and German beer, and you won't find a token glass of wine or vegetarian option (unless you count sauerkraut, french fries, or potato salad). Wechsler is such a sausage-obsessive, in fact, that when he decided to open the restaurant, he first contacted the German Embassy to find the best bratwurst maker in New York. He has settled on buying from several New York City sausage-makers, whose identity he prefers not to reveal.
There are usually eight flavors of sausage on offer: currywurst—made with your choice of a slightly spicy sausage or a paler, milder version—plus bratwurst, lamb, merguez, farmer's, chicken-apricot, turkey-cranberry, and wild boar. Sides include grunkohl, a German dish of kale, bacon, and potatoes, french fries, sauerkraut, and potato salad, as well as plenty of beer. The sides are necessary to make a full meal, but as a snack, the sausages alone are pretty wonderful.
The currywurst is oddly addictive. Wechsler makes his own curry sauce—the recipe is a secret, but he was willing to say that it has a tomato base with various fruits and spices. One night, our party of four managed to order a large currywurst twice, even though we had already ordered pretty much everything else on the menu. The browned slices of porky-salty sausage are blanketed with the reddish sauce, which tastes like equal parts ketchup, barbecue sauce, and Japanese curry. The voluminous beers don't hurt, and neither do the fries, which are skinny, crunchy, and skin-on, and are good either dipped in mayo, the curry sauce, or, preferably, both.
The bratwurst is also made with pork and veal, but the spices employed are much milder. (Merriam-Webster says that the word comes from Old High German: "brat," meaning "meat without waste," "wurst," meaning "sausage.") The pale length is served (as all the sausages are) on a paper plate that has a perforation on one side—you rip that strip of the plate off and use it as a grabbing device for your sausage. That doesn't work as well when you're passing it around to share, though then you can ask for forks and knives. When you bite through the snappy casing, the brat spurts meaty juice. Dip it in the hot mustard on the side.
Although the currywurst and bratwurst are the house specialties, the other sausages are not afterthoughts. A fantastic Middle Eastern/French sausage is a bit surprising coming from a German place of business, but, apparently, merguez is very popular in the German state of Saarland, which used to be part of France. This was actually my favorite; the sausage is fragrant with cinnamon and tastes deeply of lamb and chilies.
The wild boar version is fatter, stuffed with a rough grind of the wild piggy, seasoned with aromatic, sweet spices. The lamb sausage is skinny and almost black, with an austere lamby funk. Unless you don't eat red meat, I would steer clear of the chicken-apricot sausage, which is tasty but dry.
Since the sausages ($6 each, except the large currywurst with fries, which is $10) come singly, sides are necessary if you're hungry for a real meal. We all enjoyed the grunkohl, a green pile of kale stewed to softness, studded with chewy bits of bacon and diced potatoes. The potato salad seems like a cross between German and American styles, the slices of potatoes and minced chives slicked with an oily dressing that is not as tart as most German versions, but not as rich as American ones.
On a Wednesday night, the place was full and rowdy, with people sitting at the bar, standing, and sharing tables cluttered with tall, teetering glasses of German lagers and plates of fries and sausage. But on a Monday night, it was much quieter, and I asked Wechsler what beer he'd recommend. Wechsler got the idea that I liked fruity beers and went about cheerfully mixing Berliner Weiss—a puckeringly sour, low-alcohol beer—with electric-green waldmeister syrup. Waldmeister (or woodruff) is a German herb, often used to flavor the sweet syrups that are added to seltzers and beers. The resulting green concoction was served in a goblet with a straw and tasted disconcertingly like Jolly Rancher–flavored beer. Unlike sausage, it's something only someone from the motherland can love.
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