Rosamunde Sausage Grill // World Sausage Grill
The careless entropy on which the universe runs
For a west-coast town, San Francisco has a surprising surfeit of hot dog stands—not as ubiquitous as those in New York, perhaps, nor as ambitious as those in Chicago (where a Vienna frank is underdressed if it doesn’t have a chef’s salad on the bun), but a worthy part of the culinary ecosystem nonetheless. The Polish sausages at these carts are weak and the sodas overpriced, but a Super Dog fished from a little pool of warm, greenish water and sauced up with mustard, relish, and onions is not a version of the thing; it’s the thing itself. The condiments, sharp and sweet and tart respectively, almost mask the moist, rubbery, slightly sour taste of the sinister meat tube. There are bigger hot dogs, there are more subtly flavorful hot dogs, there are probably hot dogs that contain fewer bone chips and rat droppings, but there is not a more hot dog hot dog in this world.
And then there are times when a hot dog is not what’s indicated—times when you might want that carnal flavor-burst without the nagging sense that what you’re eating is an abstraction of meat rather than an example of it. That’s when you want a sausage.
In the past few years, San Francisco has managed to evolve a veritable sausage district, or at least two sausage places within a few blocks of each other. Rosamunde Sausage Grill, in the Lower Haight, was first by a few years; World Sausage Grill is the Johnny-come-lately on that weirdly characterless strip of Market opposite Safeway.
The sausage—invented, as everyone knows, by the Earl of Sausage—is an intrinsically takeout food, a meal that includes its own packaging. What the format brings to the table is density: the recipe calls for as much meat and seasoning as can be packed into the small space of a pig’s intestine. (The casing serves as a portent of its future in our own digestive tract.) A sausage literally looks as if it’s going to burst from its own foodness.
As a child I tended to get very excited about long lists of condiment options. This was not uncommon, I think. Children respond to strong flavors, and their simple minds are prone to believe that pleasure is additive—that, for instance, (ketchup + mustard + mayonnaise + barbecue sauce = deliciousness x 4). Eventually, though, we learn that our sensory experience is subtler than that, and that if you mix together all the colors in the paintbox you just get a muddy grey-brown.
World Sausage Grill offers a frankly ridiculous cornucopia of condiments and dressings, including pickled ginger, mango chutney, wasabi mayonnaise, and curry ketchup. In my youth I would have wanted them all. But now that my childlike sense of wonder has been replaced by hardened cynicism, now that my heart has been too oft broken by the careless entropy on which the universe runs, I’m more inclined to see that condiment list as a menu of distractions, a fanfare of gustatory bells and whistles that obscure a root-level emptiness.
None of this bodes well for the sausages themselves, and indeed on close examination they come up sadly short.
The bratwurst at World is chewy, squishy—the casing doesn’t snap open between your teeth to produce that flavor-explosion that’s so crucial to sausage satisfaction. The chicken-apple sausage (I have no idea where you would find longitudinal statistics on sausage consumption, but my guess would be that chicken-apple’s share of the overall sausage market totally blew up during the 1990s) is dry and bland and one-dimensional.
World also sells some non-meat sausages: vegetarian kielbasa, vegetarian Italian, fake chicken. I wasn’t about to eat one of these, but I did try the seafood sausage, made with snapper and scallops, because I’d never thought of putting seafood into a sausage. It turns out it’s not a good idea: the sausage concept is at odds with fish’s natural flakiness. What makes a sausage work is the way that a fatty meat responds when you grind it up and pack it tightly into a sausage casing: the resultant springy and toothsome texture, the almost fractal way that the meat’s interior folds on itself to become surface. When you cram fish into such a tight space, though, it just turns to paste.
World’s sausages are further compromised by the rolls on which they’re served: entire chunks of baguette split down the middle, enough bread to overwhelm any sausage within. Getting through the crust requires a combination of gnawing with the teeth and tearing with the hands, and the mouthfeel of the sausage is lost.
The curry ketchup is good, though.
Fortunately, after a disappointing sausage at World, you’re only a few blocks from redemption. Rosamunde Sausage Grill is a tiny storefront on Haight Street, most of which is taken up by the grill and the counter. (There’s a few stools at the window, but you’re better off taking your food next door to the Toronado, where they serve about a million different kinds of beer.) Rosamunde sells a dozen different sausages with a more sober assortment of dressings: onions, peppers, kraut, chili. And each of these sausages is a scrupulously constructed meal, meat and seasoning and garnish perfectly matched, then bound together so tightly that they become a single entity.
All of the usual suspects—the bratwurst and knockwurst and chicken sausages (the latter made not with apple but with cherries or with peppers and garlic)—are exactly what you would hope. The Italian is one of those miracles in which a recognizable genre is unexpectedly perfected: its flavor is robust but also more delicate than any other Italian sausage I’ve had. (The taste comes in three distinct phases, like one of those fancy wines: first salty, smoky pork, then piquant peppers, then the aftertaste of oregano that’s culinary shorthand for red-and-white checked tablecloths and candles in wine bottles.)
Rosamunde really comes into its own with the less mainstream sausages. The smoked duck has that rich, mellow sweetness that you get when you order duck from a good restaurant, enhanced with juniper berries (Juniper berries! At some point a sausagemaker tasted some ground duck and said, I bet this would be good with juniper berries, and boy was that a good call. It’s amazing to me that someone at that level of mastery would work in a medium like sausage, with its rigid constraints and scant opportunities for recognition or remuneration) and hazelnuts, and cut with pork, presumably to avoid excessive richness. The wild boar is gamy, almost rank, and a little tough: boar apparently doesn’t grind up soft like pork or beef. (This one didn’t quite work for me, but if you like venison or any of those Christmassy Germanic meats you should give it a shot.) And the smoked lamb with sun-dried tomato and potato is aromatic, the way lamb should be, but with a kind of salty raunch that lamb is usually too delicate for. It’s something that I’d never tasted before.
I haven’t tried the veal weisswurst, because I’m afraid it will be the most delicious thing I’ve ever had and then I’ll be forced to eat veal once a week and thus go to hell.
These sausages are served on eminently suitable rolls, big and strong enough to accommodate the sausage and condiments without falling apart, soft and light enough that they don’t overwhelm the delicate flavors, at least not much.
But then these wrapped gifts of meat and spice, these almost musical creations, are served (at the customer’s request) with sauerkraut, or with beef chili (essentially an entirely different meal that has hijacked the sausage and is using it as a host), or simply with plenty of ketchup and mustard. Those are all good things in and of themselves (although to be honest I have not yet learned to like sauerkraut, which combines the bitterness of cabbage with the bitterness of vinegar), but they’re powerful, and they mask everything about the sausages except a dim smoky meatiness. Really, we should eat these things naked, with as much care as their creator invested in making them. It’s time to put away childish things.