Locating Sabatino's is your first challenge. The best Italian sausage-maker in Orange County hides hermit-like among wharf-front boathouses. Once you get there, the classic checkered-tablecloth Italian-American restaurant offers a massive Italian sausage appetizer big enough to make a meal for two. Whatever else you order, get this sizzling semi-circle of meat brought sputtering on a cast iron platter.
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Sabatino's is Orange County's most glorious example of artisan sausage-making. See the perfectly browned casing, and the juices oozing forth from the slits sliced into the sausage? Witness now that the juices are actually molten cheese -- salty, tangy and running toward their sizzling fate on the searing-hot skillet. The sheeps-cheese studded, parsley-packed, red pepper-flecked pork sausage stands so far above any other that I confidently say it's the finest Italian sausage in America, better than any in the Italian-American stronghold of New York where I grew up.
Just as Langer's pastrami in Los Angeles beats Katz's on the Lower East Side, Sabatino's easily bests any sausage I've ever tried in New York or Chicago. Sacrilege? You'll have to try for yourself--that is, if you can locate Sabatino's. How they've managed to stay in business for decades hiding in a cave is a testament to the customers that have gone out of their way to support them.
I've always worried about Sabatino's going out of business because they're so hard to find, but we're glad to see them open a second, almost-as-obscure location on 32nd Street last year. Smaller than the original Shipyard Way restaurant, this one mostly dishes takeout to the residential neighborhood nearby. Whichever location you choose, seek out the stellar locally-made sausage.