Now, I realize I take a risk by admitting this, but no matter: I like sausage. I really like sausage. And not just any sausage, mind you: I prefer the sight of glistening links piled behind a butcher's case to their frozen counterpart, the kind of sausage sold on a Styrofoam tray.
Which is exactly what led me, a few weeks ago, to Bavarian Restaurant in Woodfin and the company of its owner, Dieter Homburg. Since opening Bavarian last year, Homburg has brought all the attention to detail, craft and freshness to sausage that his former countrymen in Germany might expect.
Each week, he fires up a smoker and flips the switch on the sausage stuffer. He minces choice, lean cuts of pork and turkey, blends them with spices, salt and a bottle or two of beer. He slips a gossamer length of pork casing onto his stuffer and guides the ingredients into it, twisting the casing as he goes along to create individual links. From the stuffer, some of the sausages go directly to the fridge for later frying; others go directly to a smoker that sits in a courtyard behind the restaurant. All told, he makes about 150 pounds a week.
For all the hard work, Homburg's customers are rewarded with the taste of Germany. (Should you doubt it, at least one sausage per plate is served with a tiny German flag piercing its skin. The flag says "A Taste of Germany" right on it.)
Homburg is proud of his ingredients, but he becomes a little more circumspect if you press him for specifics. "For the garlic sausage, we use garlic," he said. "For the cheese, we use cheddar cheese. For the curry sausage, we use curry." A dash or more of cayenne goes into the hot sausage (which, be warned, is hot). And about those spices? "I can't tell you," he said, his crinkly blue eyes narrowing and hardening somewhat.
One ingredient that Homburg is uncompromising on is his salt. He is a believer in the power of Himalayan salt, a pinkish material said to contain all the materials needed for life (or something along those lines). "Years ago, we were saying, 'Accent wakes up flavor,'" said Homburg. "Well, we know now that MSG is bad for us. But this salt is a natural flavor enhancer." Mined from mountainous regions of Pakistan, the salt is reputed to have remained untouched for 250 million years.
But a good sausage is considerably more than the sum of its parts. It is also the reflection of careful handling. By Homburg's measure, the way one cooks a sausage is nearly as important as its ingredients. For those who are inclined to souse their brats in beer or boil the dickens out of them, he suggests this: Instead, roll them lightly in flour and fry them over a medium-high flame until their skins char slightly and pop. The flour raises a delicate crust on the sausage and the high flame yields a tender casing. "That's all you do," he said.
And never, ever, poke holes in a good sausage. "The sausages you buy in the store have a lot of fat in them," said Homburg. "Ours don't, so if you start poking holes in them, you lose everything."
Homburg is exactly the kind of guy you'd want making your sausage. For one, his kitchen is immaculate. His German accent doesn't hurt, either, and neither does his convincing array of facial hair, which would look equally at home on a marine mammal.
Herr Homburg also has a mild and welcoming manner that seems to transport his restaurant from the side of busy Weaverville Highway to high on an Alpine slope, something that, by itself, even the best sausage has a hard time doing.
"First," Homburg said, as my sausage plate was being prepared, "you should have a beer." He flicked the tap-lever on his bar and poured a monumental glass of weissbier -- German wheat beer -- with a dense, rocky head. "Now that," he said, "is how you serve a beer."
The plate arrived a few minutes later, with three mighty links surrounded by herbed potatoes, warm sauerkraut and a spiced apple ring.
Both the cheese and the garlic sausage were superior, but the "traditional" brat was hands-down delicious, and so delicately seasoned that no one flavor came to the fore. There was one more sausage to try, the dry, smoked one called "landjäger," which literally translates as "country hunter," alluding to its rustic origins. Homburg hoisted a few of the dense links from a hanger and sliced them apart. Their texture was dense and buttery, the taste, a concentrated zing of smoke and spice.
"Put a link or two in your glove compartment," he said. "They'll keep a long time."
I did, and they're still there in case of emergency -- though I might not wait that long.
Bavarian Restaurant is located at 332 Weaverville Highway in Woodfin, 1 mile north of exit 23 off I-26. The restaurant's phone number is 645-8383. Sausage is also available for take-away.