Photo by Tenaya Hills"Man," my friend marveled while gnawing through a glistening veal bratwurst decorated with spicy mustard, relish and Cheddar-cheese shavings. "If that television was tuned to a hunting show instead of basketball, I'd swear I was in Wisconsin."
We were at Hollingshead's Deli in Orange. In one corner was a small counter devoted to German beer of every possible province, acidity and busty fräulein logo. Toward the back, men leaned against the bar and argued Islam while owner Kenny Hollingshead topped off their first name-emblazoned steins with one of the 15 fresh brews on tap. Kenny's father, meanwhile, roamed the claustrophobic room, his rough midwestern drawl booming over the din of toddlers, order calls and Billy Packer.
"Hey, son," he growled at a perplexed Latino who eyed a case of Czech pilsner in the deli's wall-long beer cooler. "Be prepared to spend every dime ya got while you're here!"
It's a permanent tailgate at Hollingshead's, and not just because of the Green Bay Packers garb for sale hanging from the ceiling or the pickled eggs and pickles kept in chilled brine. Hollingshead's is one of Orange County's premier booze barns, stocking drafts, ales, Heifeweisen and other brands from across the world (with a special focus on the Deutschland and the former Soviet Bloc). The limited menu is stubbornly heartland: deviled eggs, boldly pungent macaroni salads and the sweetest baked beans this side of the Lambeau Field parking lot. The side dishes share space in the tank-sized deli case with blocks of cheese and meats, which workers slice for enormous, crunchy sandwiches that cost less than six bucks.
Saturdays, though, is when the Hollingshead clan put their cleavers aside and fire up the grill for a daylong sausage cook-off. They ship in the Vienna Beef fire dogs from Chicago; the flight from O'Hare doesn't take away the dawg's peppery aftertaste. The Polish sausage, stuffed in the back room, is gritty with a great snap. But most folks chew on the quarter-pound veal bratwurst, a cream-colored length with grill marks slightly blackening its casing. Though its bulk is pornographic, the bratwurst is light, moist yet hearty: everything good and right about sausage. The Hollingsheads pack their prize wiener within a toasted French roll and serve it on a wicker basket; it's your responsibility to pile on the available condiments, which include homemade sauerkraut, springy tomatoes and cucumbers, even jalapeños in a nod to our changing national palate.
Somewhere, Vince Lombardi is smiling . . . somewhere being the deli counter, where plastic figures of Lombardi and his Super Bowl-winning squad watch stoicly over the gluttonous faithful.
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