Wurstküche: German For ‘Kiss My Weiner’
As I write this, there are 2653 reviews of Wurstküche on Yelp (and a 4+ stars average), so I'm well aware that I'm a day late and a donut short (as my daughter likes to say) on this one. But it's been a long time since a venue bugged the F out of me inspired my thoughts this much, so I have to get this out.
Obviously I've been hearing about WK for a while, but every time I looked at a review, it basically said it was a place where everyone waited on line to get a fancy hot dog. And maybe a fancy beer. I figured, for all the excitement, there must be more to it, but without knowing what that 'more' could be, I didn't rush there. However, a few weeks ago I finally had a spare 90 minutes downtown, so I decided to check it out.
Before I continue, there's no axe-grinding here. Wurstküche did not screw anything up, they did not treat me badly, or serve me a rat in a bun. Nor was my credit card overcharged by double digits (at least, I don't think so). Okay. Anyway...
If you're not on foot, WK's address is extremely challenging to find, owing to a peculiarity of where Third Street, Second Street, and Fourth Place converge (almost all of which are one way, in the way you're not going), just east of Alameda Street and Little Tokyo (where you should've gone to eat, but I digress). It's great to see more sophisticated places opening to serve the Santa Fe loft district--and great to see how it's progressed as an artist colony, too. But if you don't live there, it's not easy to get to.
That isn't necessarily the fault of WK...but then again, of all the warehousy buildings in all of downtown, did they have to pick this one? It's one of the oddest pieces of real estate you can imagine, a squat right-angled triangle, with the two doors at the extreme points, making any entrance awkward the moment there's any amount of people. Which, lucky for WK, there are, often. I was there on a random Monday late afternoon, and it was plenty busy.
This is where WK's concept really starts to bug. So, they served grilled sausages--ahem, exotic sausages--and they serve beer. Now, I won't get into my complete befuddlement about why Angelenos are willing to line up for hot dogs (cf. Pink's), but what makes no sense here is that the sausage counter, where one has to order, is crammed almost literally as far possible into one corner of the building, facing the corner, making an instant clusterf**k as soon as five people are lined up. Which is often, clearly, because the pale hipsterette with big boobs at the register is more interested in having groovy conversations with every patron instead of moving units (note: white girl behind the register, Latinos cooking the food. whatelseisnew?)
The selection of wurst is indeed broad and interesting, ranging in price from $5.75 to $7.50 and including intriguing choices like Filipino sweet pork, duck bacon and jalapeno, or smoked alligator and pork. Of course, any Eurocentric grocery store like Jon's or Latino grocery store or German deli also has a lot of interesting varieties (some even more "exotic"). But, oh, I forgot. You're a hipster. You shop at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Period.
I chose the rattlesnake, rabbit and jalapeno because I figured I should order something I couldn't find at Costco for 1/10th the price. So, yes, I paid $7.50 for a hot dog...and I wasn't even at the airport.
They offer four toppings (included)–caramelized onions, sauerkraut, sweet and hot peppers–which is pretty deflating when you realize an average Chicago dog joint offers twice as many. But since even any of these are likely to crowd out the nuances of most of these sausages, it's just as well. They do sell Belgian fries as well with a variety of dipping sauces, but the Fresh Fries truck is more impressive on that score. I note that their menu also points out that they offer five mustards. Pretty much the same five mustards you'd find at any decent deli.
The remainder of the building, accessible down a long narrow corridor, is an open, communal-tabled modern beer hall with a very long bar (see top), serving an interesting array of mostly German and Belgian beers on tap and in bottle (including a jeroboam of Chimay and a methuselem of Duvel). I'm guessing it's meant to evoke some sort of po-mo take on a meat-packing plant or something, though I tweeted that it reminded me of Auschwitz for hipsters (to be fair, Terezin for hipsters would be more accurate). There's a DJ set up, of course. And service here is much faster, because they don't sell you food. Even though the back of the bar connects to the back of the kitchen. I ordered one of the more interesting beers on tap, a Floris Apple Ale, and then realized I would be paying 9 dollars for a half-pint of tap beer. And I wasn't even in a strip club. Okay, yes, I could've gotten the Pabst Blue Ribbon full pint for $2.50, but I don't hate myself that much.
I sat outside on the patio (a strip of coffin-shaped metal tables, oh how arty, walled in by a thick railing) and waited for my sausage, which arrived soon enough in one of those typical dry oversized brioche type rolls that indicates to white people that they've just paid too much. The meat was nearly lost in it, certainly under the onions.
By the way, when my dog was delivered to me, it struck me that the place had enough runners that these people could actually be taking orders just as easily as delivering them. You know, like any normal restaurant does. And then they would actually get tipped, too. I also neglected to mention before that WK had a large African-American man in a black suit guarding the door. That's right, the hot dog joint has nightclub security. I should've taken that as a sign that I had truly stepped back in time to 1980s SoHo, the time and place that inspired American Psycho.
Anyway, I ate my sausage, which was maybe 5 ounces, with a little bite and some unusual texture, but really, nothing relevatory. I listened to the amusing banter of the mismatched couple next to me. And then, I bolted.
On my way, I noted a branch of the great Eagle Rock gyro spot Spitz in Little Tokyo, just about three blocks from WK, where I know I would've been twice as satisfied for half the price (including great fries). As for fancy sausages and beer, I think I can skip the hipster's Jodi Maroni. It would be tempting to say that Wurstküche represents everything wrong with the LA food scene, but really, it's not their fault. The fact that so many people think Wurstküche is so great, that is what's wrong with the LA food scene.
And coming soon to a hopefully less awkward address in Venice!
800 East Third Street, Los Angeles--GPS this one for sure
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JULY 2011