Sunday, March 20, 2016

Not Wurst By A Long Shot

305 East 4th Street #106
Santa Ana, CA 92701

I was pretty upset when I was leaving Wursthaus. Not upset with anything that happened inside this restaurant, it was more about wasted time. They recently celebrated their one year anniversary, and I had yet to make it in for a visit. It took an invite from the great PR company, Ajenda Public Relations for me to get my butt in here, and I have been thinking about going back ever since.

Downtown Santa Ana has tons of great spots. There's of course 4th Street Market, with all of those great options, there's also Kutsi Cocina, Chapter One, C4 Deli, and I could go on and on, but Wursthaus is not to be overlooked when headed to this restaurant rich area. Located on the corner of 4th and French Streets, between the Northgate Market and the Playground Restaurant, I was excited to see what they had waiting for us inside this red brick building.

What they have is a re-imagined German beer hall, without all the over the top frivolity of an Oktoberfest celebration. There's no hard to handle beer steins, no Oom Pah Pah band playing, and no shot girls in lederhosen, although I would not be opposed to this if they wanted to add this feature. Co-owners, Gabriel and Georgina Ruiz have updated the brew hall concept, with a backroom that features long communal tables, wood topped bar, and  nice mellow atmosphere.

As we arrived here at just after 5pm, it appears that this is a favorite of people for after work beverages and food. There was a rather large group huddled in one corner, the bar seating was already pretty filled up, and as the night went along, the communal tables became exactly that, filled with people, strangers and friends partaking in libations and in what the OC Weekly had voted the best hot dog in Orange County last year.

The ordering process can be a little intimidating here, but only because there are so many great options. First you choose your sausage from the classic, gourmet, or exotic section of the menu. Next up is your choice of pretzel bun or a traditional grinder roll, and then you finish it off by adding toppings to your creation. Ordering is done at the front of the storefront, and then delivered to you in the surprisingly large back room. Let's see how everything turned out for me and my good friend George on this evening.

Starting things off are a few of the beverage offerings available on this evening. At Wursthaus they have 20 Belgian and German beers on tap, and more bottled. I'm by no means a beer expert, but the bartender was very open to allowing me to try a few samples, until I found something that I liked. I eventually went with the Leffe Blonde ($5), which was one of their lighter offerings, and one that would not overpower the sausages I'd be having. George is not much into beer, so he enjoyed a Filbert's Watermelon Soda ($2.90). No fountain drinks here, but they had a nice selection of bottled drinks, and also for you coffee fiends out there, they also feature critically acclaimed Stumptown Coffee products.

The item I was most excited to try was the first one out of the kitchen for us, and it was also the one that I had heard the most about from Wursthaus, the Drunken Fries ($9.50). I'd describe these as Animal Style Fries on steroids. They start with a base of their very good Belgian fries, which are hand cut from Kennebec potatoes, then they are triple fried, to provide a good crispness, while leaving a soft and tender inside to them. These fries are then topped with IPA caramelized onions, a very tasty house andalouse sauce, and your choice of sausage. We went with the spicy Polish, which added a nice slow heat to this. This has been haunting my thoughts since my last visit here, it's that good. George really enjoyed the fries, calling them, "the best fries he has had."

George and I did two rounds of sausages here, and I started my sausage saga off with this Smoked Polish ($6.50). The sausage is the star of the show here, with a good amount of paprika present, along with a tinge of garlic to compliment the pork. I had mine topped with plenty of jalapenos to provide a slow burn. The pretzel bun here is pretty tasty, and it is sourced from local Santa Ana bakery, Bread Artisan Bakery. Their stuff is always stellar, as was the case here at Wursthaus.

George's initial foray into sausage nirvana was this Gourmet Chicken Jalapeno Sausage ($7.50). He likes his stuff topped with sauerkraut and tri-colored peppers. He really enjoyed this, and for once he was quiet, which if you know George is kind of a rarity. I was pretty happy that there were six condiment choices on each table. Yes, five of them were a type of mustard, (Dijon, spicy, honey, American, and whole grain), but I always enjoy mixing and matching to find my perfect combination for each sausage.

For my second, and final sausage at Wursthaus, I selected this Smoked Cheddar IPA Bratwurst ($7.50). I kind of just ordered this on a whim, not expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. It had a great snap to it, with a nice and meaty inside. The cheese in here was not overly prevalent, and allowed the natural flavor of the pork to come through. This went really well with the American mustard provided on the table. After having this, I also figured out that I'm more partial to the grinder rolls, than the more bready pretzel rolls.

I was pretty surprised when George ordered this Smoked Hungarian ($6.50). I guess even after knowing someone for 26 years, you can still be surprised with something they do. Another pork based sausage, which is spiced with garlic and paprika, this had George singing its praises. He loved the heartiness here, which went well with the slightly sweet caramelized onions. A very nice pairing, even if this is not the most photogenic food item ever.

Yes, it took a little nudge for us to make into Wursthaus, but we will not need to be nudged again for our eventual second and subsequent visits. I have not been to Wurstkuche in LA, but I have been to Linx, Dog Haus, and Joe's, and this is right up there with those sausage titans. A number of their Yelp reviews mention the relaxed vibe here, and I think that's a fair assessment. Wursthaus is not trying to be too hipster, they are not really trying to be something they are not. They have cultivated a spot where you can hang out, enjoy some European beer, and have a sausage or two, while enjoying your friends company. A perfect fit for Downtown Santa Ana.

If you would like to experience Wursthaus for yourself, or for more information about Wursthaus, head to their website here:

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