The Ever-Changing Pleasures of the Wurst Place
In the middle of all the shiny new glass and metal of South Lake Union, it's a bone-deep relief to find a destination that suggests some kind of real history. The Wurst Place is in an ugly ribbed building smooshed between Uptown Espresso and Guitar Center, at the tail end of Westlake. It's only been open since February 3—the space used to be home to Outdoor & More—but on the inside, it feels like it's been there for decades.
Bob Liptak (a self-described Tom Petty impersonator—the resemblance really is kind of eerie) stumbles over his words with excitement as he describes how he and co-owners Mike and Heather Parent rebuilt the space. They took out the suspended ceiling and discovered a series of weathered wooden beams high above the floor. They added some worn features ("We took a flame thrower to this wood ourselves," Liptak says with pride about the wall behind the beer taps), a series of comfortable booths, and a big long table in the middle of the room, and then they started grilling sausages.
It might be hard to determine a single favorite sausage at the Wurst Place. This is in part because their selection is so broad and deep, and partly because popular sausages sell out often. Liptak and the Parents (which sounds like the worst rock band ever) hope to make their own sausages onsite one day, but for now they source them from pretty much everywhere. The kielbasa comes from George's Sausage and Delicatessen on First Hill; others are from Uli's Famous Sausage down in the Market. Liptak says that the game sausages come from Colorado and other varieties are shipped in from Chicago, which is the city where America's love affair with sausages was born.
You can assuage the heartbreak of finding that a particular type of weird sausage isn't on the menu—I was disappointed that the rattlesnake-and-rabbit sausage had gone missing on my most recent visit, because I had finally somehow managed to work myself into a snake-and-bunny-eating frenzy—by eating another weird type of sausage instead. My favorite of the nontraditional meats is the spicy bison ($8.50), a not-too-hot, juicy snapper of a sausage that somehow tastes beefier than beef. The duck, bacon, and jalapeño ($8.50), too, is a surprise. The bacon and pepper transform the gaminess of the duck into a rich delight.
But sometimes the classics are the way to go. That kielbasa from George's ($7.50) is a stocky pleasure. Everything about it is sturdy, from the casing that snaps, as it should, with every juicy bite to the spices providing a balancing grace note to the smoky meat. And the classics can survive a little adventurousness, too: The potato-bacon-cheddar-pork brat ($7.50) is a meal on a bun, with little rivulets of cheese and baked potato bubbling throughout. All the sausages are served on toasted buns from Larsen's Danish Bakery in Ballard—satisfying, chewy rolls that don't fall apart under a flood of mustard—and they come with sauerkraut, sweet or hot peppers, and/or caramelized onions. (Of these options, only the onions are a little lacking in flavor; they could use a bit more of a buttery kick or perhaps a little less time on the grill.)
Try as you might, you can't live on sausages alone. That's why the Wurst Place serves an ever-changing array of 23 beers on tap from around the Pacific Northwest and Europe. (The Wurst Place is the ending point for Seattle Beer Week's pub-tour-by-bicycle on Saturday, May 12, which should be entertainingly sloppy.) They also make frites, $3.75 for a small order, $5.25 for a large—unless you have a Herculean appetite, stick with small, as they are ridiculously filling. They're cut onsite, washed three times, and soaked overnight before frying. They're not too greasy and they're getting better all the time—Liptak admits he was only 90 percent happy with the frites before last weekend, when he had a realization about some secret thing he could do to tweak the frying oil to make them, in his mind, "perfect." The array of sauces—including blue cheese, sour cream and chive, sriracha Thai chili, and the understated "HELL"—transform each order of frites into a new experience. The chocolate malt sauce, made in part from Nutella, transforms the frites into a sweet, salty dessert.
Liptak says they're still working the kinks out of the menu. During my first two visits, the Wurst Place served cookies, baked onsite, for $1.50 a pop. The BOB—banana, oatmeal, and bacon—was a brilliant complement to the bacon sausages, a moist and flavorful treat that, while not quite up to Liptak's claims of "the best cookie in town," certainly deserved a place on the top-10 list. Suddenly, the cookies were gone. Other than one man who came in every day to buy a cookie or two—Liptak nicknamed him the Cookie Monster—they just weren't selling. Now they're trying out salted caramels, also concocted onsite, in a jar by the register for $1 apiece. While I miss the cookies, these generous hunks of fresh caramel dusted with a delicate crust of salt are pretty goddamned addicting. As with everything else at the Wurst Place, you want to make sure you eat your fill, because something different—and most likely, something even better—will be on the menu next time.