While living in Chicago, I was a 20-minute bus ride away from the holy Mecca of encased meats, Hot Doug’s. Perhaps you’ve seen it on the Food Network, or caught Tony Bourdain extolling the virtues of the world’s greatest sausage superstore on the Travel Channel. Maybe you’ve been there yourself and stood in line before their morning opening. The line is long—it wraps around the building and down the adjacent sidewalk—but it moves fast, OK Joe’s style, and before you know it, you’re in front of Doug himself, calmly trying to spit out your order, but stuttering with unavoidable, anticipatory glee. So many choices, so little stomach.
Do you want the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel? Perhaps. It’s pretty rich, though. Maybe you want the Three Cheese and Beer Chicken Sausage with Pesto Mayonnaise, Roma Tomatoes and Smoked Mozzarella Cheese? Well, yeah… that sounds good, too. Don’t forget to save room for the French fries, improbably and deliciously cooked in duck-fat on Fridays and Saturdays.
Jesus. I’m getting a food-boner just thinking about this.
So anyway, after being spoiled for so long—after cramming your gullet with so much delicious ridiculousness—you begin to experience withdrawals when taken away from your precious ground, tubular animal. Let’s call them the “sausage shakes.” What’s a Kansas Citian to do?
Well, it’s not fair to compare the freshly minted Haus at 31st and Gillham to Hot Doug’s; the former is but a newborn, and the latter is in an unparalleled, unmatchable league of its own.
So here’s what you can expect when you’re expecting (to dine on German food at Haus):
Haus has a bit of an identity crisis. Call it a “hipster-Hitler” syndrome, if you will. The well-designed interior features long, beautifully crafted communal style tables (there’s ABSOLUTELY a chance you’ll be sharing your mustard with a group of strangers, so, you know… head’s up), just like in the real motherland! It’s a post-modern take on a classic German beer-hall, and the designers pulled it off well. And then someone said, “you know what goes well with sausage and Belgian beer? HIP HOP AND KATY PERRY.” That’s right, if you like a little Kanye with your Kraut, you’re in luck. Oh wait, what’s that? NOBODY likes that? Well, shit.
Being that it’s in such a precarious position—if you’re not an Ed Hardy clad douchebag or an untamed JoCo cougar, Martini Corner might not be your haunt—it draws a diverse mix of people. On our visit, there was a table full of rowdy gay guys, a couple of dreadlocked, earthy couples scattered about, and a slow stream of confused looking elderly folks, awkwardly attempting to recapture the eats of their youth—again, while Justin Bieber croons delicately over the shaky sound system.
Ambiance aside, what people TRULY care about is the food, right? With that in mind, here’s this:
The sausages and buns are terrific, the fries are okay, and the toppings are disappointingly forgettable.
First, the sausages. The star of the show. The meaty wind beneath your wings. The reason you’re here. The sausages do not disappoint. And how could they? They’re ground fresh by noted chef Alexander Pope’s The Local Pig, a hip charcuterie located near Knuckleheads in the East Bottoms. The links, my friend, are Fine. With a capital F.
We tried three—the standard brat (because if you can’t do that, fuck off), the Chicken, Jalapeno and Pineapple and the Lamb, Cumin and Oregano.
The brat was good. A nice, even ground. No gristle, no chunks of unpleasantness. Pretty standard. The lamb sausage was tasty as well. Though slight hints of cumin and oregano were detectable, they didn’t overpower the flavor of the spectacular lamb. The chicken was the least exciting of the bunch. It tasted like, well, chicken. Straight. Up. Fowl. This is a safe pick for children or diners with delicate palates.
All sausages are served on pretzel buns from Farm to Market Bread Co. This is a particularly smart move, as Farm to Market could probably bake a boot and somehow make it delicious. The bread is soft, hot and delicious, and makes a delightful, unobtrusive bed for the meat.
Where Haus loses it, however, is with the toppings. See, the way it works is that you pick your sausage—Brats and Italians are $5.99, seven gourmet sausages (including the lamb, the chicken, the duck, etc.) are $6.99 and the “exotics”—buffalo, elk and boar are $7.99—and you pick two toppings to go on said sausage.
Here’s the deal with the toppings: they’re simply not very good. They add nothing to the proceedings. The sauerkraut—presumably made in-house—tastes like shredded cabbage splashed with pickle juice. The caramelized onions are fat, slimy and fairly devoid of taste. The jalapenos—well, I’m pretty sure those bad-boys come straight out of the can.
The fries—because what’s meat, sans potatoes?—are all right, but they’re hardly Belgian by definition. Per www.belgianfries.com— I swear to fucking God it’s a real website—there are 6 standards for Belgian fries:
1. freshly cut, irregularly shaped
2. cooked (fried) twice
3. fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside
4. a distinct potato taste
5. at least 10 mm thick
6. preferably served in a paper cone
Haus failed miserably on nos. two and three. While quite tasty, our fries were FAR from crispy on the outside. They were flaccid and limp, the starchy equivalent of John Travolta confronted with a naked Kelly Preston. I still liked them, though—they were fresh, hot and salty—and the small ($2.50) was a very filling portion. I’d recommend trying them with the housemade Sriracha aioli, even if the server bizarrely tries to push the cucumber yogurt sauce on you.
This place can get expensive, fast. The sausages are reasonable—really, truly, they are. You don’t need more than one, so with one link and one order of FRENCH fries, you’re out $10, tops. Where they get you, however, where they really start goose-stepping on your billfold, is with the beer. Because this is, after all, a proclaimed destination for all biers German and Belgian. And they don’t disappoint, but boy, it don’t come cheap. Aside from the PBR—which can be had for $2 a pint during Happy Hour—and the Boulevard Wheat for $5—there’s nothing on the beer menu cheaper than $6. Many of the drafts run upwards of $9, as do the bottles.
I had the Radeberger Pils, the Hofbrau Hefe Weizen and the Wittekerke, my wife had two different kinds of cider, and I promptly pissed out $32 in liquid when I got home. Really great selection, really heavy prices.
Because of our gluttony, we left $100 lighter, all told. No leftovers, a mild buzz and a severe case of sluggishness from the meat.
Of note: many of the complaints I’ve read online, from internet food-review bandits and anonymous keyboard critics, cite two things as major deterrents: the light that comes in the western windows and bounces off of the tables in the early evening (true, but give me a fucking break) and the service.
While the service DID leave something to be desired—beers were emptied before replacements arrived—it wasn’t awful. It’s never fun to see a gaggle of good-looking 20-somethings standing around in a huddle, all checking their phones while you wait on something mind-bendingly complicated like "mustard," but for the most part, our server was attentive and dedicated. Oh, AND she was cute, wore egregiously short-shorts and punctuated all of your answers to her questions with “sweet!” It was kind of funny and endearing.
All in all, Haus has a way to go. I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to visit, necessarily, but if someone suggested it, I wouldn’t shit my pants in defiance or anything. I think if you keep it simple—dog in bun, period (maybe a dash of mustard)—you’ll be just fine.
(Or if you’re on a budget, you could get quite a bit more bang for your buck by picking up the sausages from the Local Pig, grilling them yourself, and drinking whatever kind of beer you damn well please from the comfort of your own home… but isn’t that the case just about anywhere?)