Whenever a new sausage and beer-hall concept is reviewed, comparisons to LA's Wurstküche—which arguably created the blueprint for all sausage-and-beer joints that followed it in Southern California and beyond—must be made. So let's get it out of the way: Yes, Wursthaus in downtown SanTana does have some very obvious similarities.
First, there are the sausages themselves. Just as at Wurstküche, they start out uncooked and stacked like logs behind a clear, refrigerated display case in species both domestic and exotic. Then there's the long hallway that links where you order your sausage sandwiches to the backroom dining room where you eat them. In this mess hall, Wursthaus also boasts similar communal picnic tables, squirt bottles of five gourmet mustards and one ketchup, and a recessed beer bar.
But so what if Wursthaus is the “Blurred Lines” to Wurstküche's “Got to Give It Up”? If imitation isn't the sincerest form of flattery, it is, at the very least, a validation that the original idea was a great one. And since nearly everyone I've talked to about Wursthaus recognized Wurstküche as its inspiration, I'd argue that Wursthaus isn't a Wurstküche copycat; it's actually its tubed-meat apostle.
And as far as the Gospel of Sausage goes, Wursthaus might just be its St. Paul. Apart from the strangely alien texture of the vegan apple and sage, which I should've known not to order, I haven't had better sausage sandwiches anywhere in OC. The buns were good and hearty, especially the pretzel roll, which had the shiny brown and sturdy crust of an actual pretzel; I could've eaten it alone with some mustard while watching a ballgame. And then there were the toppings: The sauerkraut was crisp and fresh; the caramelized IPA onions had sweetness akin to French onion soup. And every sautéed veggie—be it onion, bell pepper or jalapeño —still possessed that fresh-from-the-wok crunch of a proper Chinese stir-fry.
Of course, where Wursthaus truly excels is in its sausages. And no matter which one I had, each tasted exactly as advertised. The chicken Florentine had the tang of feta; embedded in it were visible bits of sun-dried tomato and spinach that I actually felt the need to check the mirror to make sure none got stuck in my teeth. And though the Santa Fe-style buffalo sausage contained trace amounts of pork, green chile and cilantro, it had the coarse grind of a meaty burger and thus felt particularly satisfying in its gobbling: a carnivorous two-for-one, if you will.
Perhaps the best sausage is the standard-bearing bratwurst. It's burnished with just touch of char, causing the casing to crackle and snap audibly as I bit into it. It is, by far, the sausage sandwich that's predisposed to go well with any excellent beer Wursthaus pours from its taps, but especially the Batik, the Hoegaarden and the Paulaner—the three beers that join the brat during happy hour.
Sunday, I've discovered, is the best time to come. This isn't only because the happy hour prices are offered throughout the day, but also because parking in DTSA is free and the restaurant is almost always empty—perfect for those of us who like the spoils of Oktoberfest but aren't necessarily keen on sharing the communal tables or the squirt bottles of gourmet mustard with drunken hipsters on a Saturday night. Also discounted are the Belgian fries, which didn't have the uniform golden sheen of the frites I've had in Brussels, but instead possessed the skin-on and caramel-brown edges of a stereotypical natural-cut French fry. Still, even if they can only be called “Belgian” because of their thickness and the paper cones, it must be noted that Wurstküche does its potatoes in the same way.
Both sausage joints, by the way, also serve the fries with a complimentary thimble of housemade sauce. Wursthaus offers a jalapeño ranch and a Sriracha cream, as current culinary trends dictate, but its bacon blue sauce had chunks of cheese so big I employed two fries as chopsticks. Wursthaus' honey mustard, however, is the one sauce to rule them all. It elevated not only potato and sausage, but also my pretzel roll. And the best part was that I didn't have to waste the complimentary choice of fry sauce asking for it: It's bottled along with the other mustards at the table.
Perhaps the one important thing Wursthaus can say it has that sets it apart from Wurstküche is the option of topping its fries with a Thousand Island-esque house Andalouse sauce, caramelized onions and any sausage. Our server described it as a version of animal-style fries, but for Wursthaus' sake, don't tell In-N-Out.
Wursthaus, 305 E. Fourth St., Ste. 106, Santa Ana, (714) 760-4333; wursthausdtsa.com. Open Sun.-Tues., 11 a.m.-midnight; Wed.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Dinner for two, $15-$30, food only. Beer and wine.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.