No matter how steely gray the skies get outside, the light inside George's Sausage & Delicatessen (907 Madison St, 622-1491) is always golden and warm, as if you walked into a flashback from a Scorsese movie. It's a tiny storefront; 10 people would make the room uncomfortable. There are shelves packed with products—cookies, crackers, candy, pickled goods, fresh rye bread as black as ink—imported from Poland and other Eastern European countries. And for carnivores, this is the promised land: Right in the middle of the room is a case full of gorgeous sausages and deli meat—bowls filled with sausage links, hams, liverwurst.
The counter where you place your order is almost an afterthought, a small space free from the gorgeous clutter that takes up every other available inch in George's. Service is fast—it has to be, there's simply no room for customers to stand around and wait—and when you get your parcel of food, you basically have to clear out of the building to make room for someone else.
I unwrapped my meal on a bench at nearby Freeway Park. The potato salad ($3.55) is obviously homemade, a creamy blend of mayonnaise, potatoes, and onions, with a hint of celery seed. It's more old-school than the modern fancy potato salads with, say, recognizable potato wedges in them, but it's a stellar example of a classic deli side dish.
It's hard to make a truly impressive cold-cut sandwich, but George's has had 32 years to perfect the formula. The sausage on rye ($5.45) is basically a bologna sandwich, but it's one of the best bologna sandwiches you'll ever eat in your life. The thin slices of sausage—pink, salty—are stacked high and dense, with tomatoes, pickles, mustard, horseradish, and a couple slices of provolone cheese, with iceberg lettuce on either side. The slices of rye bread practically groan when you pick up this sandwich. It's stuffed about as full as possible with meat, and it yet remains perfectly balanced—a mixture of texture, flavor, and ingredients.
George's also sells individual sausages from a jar at the counter for $1.50 a pop. The spicy sausage—slightly thicker and about as long as a pencil—has an impressive snap to it, a lingering heat, and a satisfying meatiness. The corporate blandness of Slim Jims is a mockery of the integrity of this sausage, and to George's classic, meaty appeal.