by Anthony Enright
I’ve been meaning to write this column for a while as it’s about one of my favorite things, but the convergence this week of prime grilling season and the festivities of Pride week made the timing doubly fortuitous. You see friends, I want to write about my abiding love of a good sausage. As it is Pride week, and we’re celebrating love in all forms, I’m going to make some awkward and none too subtle double entendres in the next paragraph (with tongue firmly in cheek), so consider yourself forewarned.
I don’t know where you stand on sausage; I guess it’s not for everyone, but if your typical sausage experience is with a ballpark frank or a supermarket brat, you have no idea what you’re missing. I have to urge you to check out the explosion in artisanal sausage that’s developed in the Twin Cities lately. It’s bringing on a kind of golden age for local sausage. Yep, for those interested in seeking it out the Twin Cities is just one big sausage party (perhaps never more so this week) with no end to the variety and quality of really fine sausage available. Of course, some people find themselves with a nearly insatiable appetite for a plump, juicy sausage. Seriously though, there’s some amazing sausages being made locally, so why limit your backyard grilling options to cheap packaged products when it’s so easy to get the good stuff?
I considered writing about how simple it is to make your own sausage, and in the interests of journalistic research checked in with my friends over at the Modern Cafe in Northeast Minneapolis, where they’ve recently been serving some truly impressive sausage. (There’s Andouille sausage with cheesy grits on the menu that’s kills me!) Head chef Jim Grell and sous chef Ella Wesenberg offered to show me the sausage-making ropes, but when I learned how delicate the balance of meat to flavoring to fat can be, and what an alchemical art it is to get the process down just right, I decided to recommend leaving it to the professionals. Not to say making sausage isn’t a skill worth learning, but if there’s a learning curve for even some of the most talented chefs wouldn’t you rather just eat the fruits of their labor?
So where can you pick up some exceptional sausages for your next backyard barbecue? There’s a wealth of places, so just a few suggestions are below.
Grocers for Sausage Lovers:
This Northeast institution is the standard bearer for locally made sausage and a welcome reminder of Northeast’s lingering Eastern European heritage. It’s very difficult to go wrong at their meat counter and as they make nearly four dozen varieties; you can explore for months and not taste them all. The Polish sausage and bratwurst are particular favorites of mine, they are both subtle and well spiced yet bursting with flavor. They remind you why these two varieties are so popular, but Kramarczuk’s versions are nothing like the pale supermarket imitators. You’re going to get addicted to this place.
Clancey’s is a simple place, they’re not fancy and put on very little outward show of being “gourmet” but boy howdy do they know about good food. They feature a dozen or so rotating sausages including a standout duck sausage made with local duck meat from Au Bon Canard. They also make a rich and complex lamb sausage, as well as more traditional pork sausages. It’s worth making a trip here just for the sausage, but you’re likely to become a loyal customer since Clancey’s offers the kind of friendly and knowledgeable shopping experience that inspires loyalty.
For a grocery store, the Wedge makes some fine sausages. Not only do they do the classics (Italian sausage, chorizo) well, they have a great selection of more unexpected flavors including chicken sausage so juicy and wonderful that it makes an solid argument for why you would ever want to eat chicken sausage when pork is available (apparently the key is thigh meat and the proper ratio of fat). All the Wedge’s sausages use local ingredients and are house-made, so there’s a great lamb and mint and a rich beefy buffalo option. Some people swear by the sausages from other local specialty grocers, but I find most of them a bit off in the texture department and sometimes under-seasoned, the Wedge’s on the other hand always impress me with their freshness and depth.
Restaurants for sausage lovers:
There are quite a few restaurants that have become part of the local sausage revolution. Some are headed up by chefs who have an ingrained passion for sausage making, while others have seen the influence of chef Mike Phillips who currently runs Green Ox Meat Co. and has been a “sausage mentor” to the local food community. Of course I can’t list them all, so below are three places where sausage making has become an important part of their food philosophy.
The buzz is that this place is a sausage lover’s nirvana and reviews of the sausages have been ecstatic. Though I haven’t yet personally sampled it, the boar sausage is on my short list of things I want to immediately put in my mouth.
As mentioned before, the chefs at the Modern Cafe have been building on the techniques from Mike Phillips (who formerly worked there) and experimenting with unique and hearty sausages on a nearly daily basis.
Inspired by colleague and fellow sausage maker Chef Adam Naumann from Madison, the Sample Room’s Executive Chef Matt Paulson is endeavoring to make 100 unique sausages. Recent offering have included green chili pork, chicken pad thai and even a salmon sausage. I’m excited to see what creative ideas he comes up with next.