Keep It Simple, Sausage
A Contemplation of the Frankfurter Form at the Augustus
The impulse with sausages is always to go over the top. The act of sausage making is so intrinsically extravagant—the grinding, the smooshing, the wild textural journey—that people just don't know when to quit.
It starts with a little fennel. Why wouldn't you add a little fennel to a sausage, right? Then maybe you throw in some spicy peppers, or rosemary. Next thing you know, your damned sausage is a Thanksgiving dinner, a tube smashed full of cranberries and minced pine nuts and three kinds of cheese, and, if you're lucky, some kind of meat. So restaurants that promise homemade sausages are often a siren's call to disaster, resulting in a sausage frankensteined together from a bunch of foodie buzzwords.
This is not the case—with one notable exception—at the Augustus, a Fremont bar that promises sausage nirvana in a dimly lit, casual setting. The Augustus, which opened at the end of last year, features an array of sausages priced at $10 a pop, accompanied by Tim's Cascade Chips or, even better, house-made coleslaw. The sausages are all made next door, at Hunger. They're served the way sausages should be served: on wax paper, with a repurposed cardboard carrying case for a six-pack of beer loaded full of condiments. (The condiments are classy stuff, too, with a habañero vinegar for the chips and several variations of mayonnaise, along with mustard and ketchup.)
Aesthetically, these are fine sausages. They're not too big, not too overstuffed, not too skimpy. And they're not too conceptually dense, either. The Portuguese linguica is a perfect example of a sausage done right: It's a burnished brown, spicy but not hot, and about as juicy as sausages can get while still staying in one solid piece. (None of the sausages at the Augustus snap when you bite into them, which disappointed a homemade-sausage expert I brought along with me, but when a sausage is this flavorful and juicy, who needs a pop in the mouth?) It's topped with caramelized onions and bacon—or, according to the menu, "Onion Bacon Gastrique," but since we're talking about sausages, let's just call it onions and bacon—and it's the kind of thing you can happily eat without dousing it in any of the house-made condiments. This is the solid center of the menu: a simple sausage, made well.
If you're looking for something heartier, go with the 99, a spicy Italian sausage covered in onions and peppers, which are then drenched in a house-made cheese sauce. It's not the gut-bomb it sounds like. The cheese is mild and smooth, complementing the sausage rather than drowning it, and the delicious, chewy white roll (from Mario's Bakery, way out in Kent) holds up admirably, considering all the grease and sauce it has to contain. If you're eating your way through the menu, by this point, the Augustus is shaping up to be quite the enjoyable sausage fest.
But then comes the Augustus's folly. It's called the Roper. Get a load of the ambition laid out on the menu: "Beef Brisket, Pork Shoulder, Horseradish stuffed Sausage served with Sautéed Mushrooms and Garlic Aioli." If you're a hungry drunk out to stuff your belly, this is probably the item on the menu that would draw your attention. Resist that impulse. The Roper doesn't taste of brisket, or horseradish, or barbecue. Instead, it just tastes a little bit gamy, and then it sits there, unimpressive. It's a classic sausage overreach, trying to represent everything and instead tasting like pretty much nothing.
Thank God, then, for the Texan. This barbecued chicken sausage is possibly the tastiest of the lot—with its fiery zing and its smoky aftertaste, it's everything the Roper promises and doesn't deliver. And topped as it is with more barbecue sauce and some of the crunchy, fresh coleslaw, the Texan represents the height of the Augustus's potential as a restaurant. It's an exceptional sausage.
The Augustus aims to be a neighborhood bar, stocked with a good selection of cold beer. It's got some tall chairs and tables lining the wall, some lawn furniture out on the patio, and a few comfy couches out back, by the big windows. There's a large menu of bar snacks that all do the trick, including the spiced warm nuts ($4)—a ramekin full of greasy, heated mixed nuts that will leave you licking your fingers—and baskets of flavored buttered popcorn. The apple-pie-spice-and-sugar popcorn ($3) is sweet but not kettle-corn sweet, and makes for a nice, informal cap to the meal. With all the goddamned delicious sausages flying out of the kitchen, who has room for dessert?