The Wurst Bar
705 W. Cross St.,
Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
Sausage and beer — it's an epic pairing on par with milk and cookies, football and Sunday afternoons, and Kwame Kilpatrick and poorly executed political cover-ups. Cheap, filling, delicious — what's not to love? Imagine then a restaurant that serves practically nothing but sausage and beer. It wouldn't be heaven, but it'd be close.
Even better? It's already here.
The Wurst Bar opened in January, occupying a Ypsilanti location previously used by Theo's, the beloved neighborhood dive bar. Wurst still has a bit of a dive bar feel — a simple interior, cheap eats, lots of beer, and a little game room in the very back — but the comparisons end there.
As the name suggests, sausage is the focus of the menu, but these aren't the bratwursts that Dad grills up on Memorial Day. One of the most popular items is, for example, a rattlesnake chorizo; and, despite what my party expected, the Wurst Bar is exceedingly friendly to vegetarians and vegans.
Divided into "usual" sausages for $5.75 and "unusual" for $7, the menu is straightforward. Diners first choose a type of bread — brioche or pretzel. The brioche bun is sometimes chewy and dry, but the pretzel roll is wonderful.
Step two is the choice of toppings: The Wurst Bar offers kraut, kimchi, sautéed onions, sweet peppers and spicy peppers. They're all delicious, though some obviously work better for particular bun-and-sausage combinations.
For the main event, even the "usual" sausages show some creativity. Since opening, the menu has changed a few times — and it'll probably continue to change — but on one of our recent visits, the options include a brat poached in Pabst, a spicy Italian sausage, and two vegetarian options, one based on tofu and apple, the other based on seitan from the Michigan company Mama Mo.
These veggie-friendly sausages can be made vegan, a task the knowledgeable and ever-helpful staff seems to relish.
Much of the chatter surrounding Wurst, however, is born of their less common offerings, such as the aforementioned rattlesnake chorizo, which our party agreed was best accompanied by kimchi, served on a brioche bun. It's hard to say whether the rattlesnake flavor comes through — who knows what rattlesnake even tastes like? — but as a spicy chorizo, it's nicely prepared.
Among the other options are a rabbit-and-chicken sausage made with fig, spices and Viognier white wine, which I particularly enjoyed on a pretzel roll with kraut. On one visit, our order appeared to get confused with someone else's and this particular sausage came out undercooked, but the crack staff was quick to remedy the situation, and it doesn't appear to be a common problem.
Surprisingly tasty was the alligator-and-crawfish boudin. While most of the sausages come in natural pork casings, this is among the options that arrive uncased. The gator and crawfish meat are molded together with cod and rice, cooked to a nice brown crisp on the outside, and then served on a bun — closer to a fish cake than traditional wurst.
The menu isn't limited to sausage: They serve a series of burgers ($5.75-$7) ranging from a standard beef burger, ground in-house, to the Nut Burger, which comes with cheddar, bacon and crunchy peanut butter. While no one in our party was in the mood to chance that particular offering, everyone loved the Southerner, a burger topped with a tangy fried green tomato, pimento cheese and bacon.
All the burgers and sausages arrive alone in loaf pans, though patrons can add a side of tater tots (normal, sweet potato or a mix) for $2.50. Though the homemade tot trend seems to be overtaking every other restaurant in the United States, these are both nicely done and fairly priced.
Starters and sides include curry-flavored mini-corn dogs ($6), pimento cheese dip with pretzel bread nibs ($4), a rotating soup of the day and a soba noodle salad ($6). Particularly indulgent are the Scotch eggs, boiled, crusted with a sausage-based breading, and served with a perfectly tart homemade mustard dip.
The Wurst Bar's loaded baked potato salad drew mixed reviews from our party. Apparently, the components of the salad sometimes vary, and on one of our visits, potatoes and sweet potatoes were tossed with bacon, cheddar and grilled pineapple, served with sour cream. Depending on the bite, it was either spot-on or perhaps one ingredient too many, often a confusing medley of oddly juxtaposed flavors.
Should you be craving something sweet to end your meal, you'll get some unconventional options. On one visit, we were treated to an assortment of flavored mocha, the Japanese confection made from a rice paste. On another, Wurst offered a sort of bacon-chocolate Chex mix ($2.50).
The beer options are not unique, but it gets the job done: The focus is on Michigan brews, and the prices are quite fair. Indeed, for an entire trip with starters, a sausage and four beers, the total was about $35. And with a number of theme nights, you'll often find drink deals: Inexpensive pitchers on Mondays, cheap Jameson for trivia night on Wednesdays, and $2 drafts on Fridays.
Sausage and beer. It's an epic pairing, and the Wurst Bar is doing it right.
Evan Hansen dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.