You’re in Cleveland. The suburbs. As your minivan pulls off 480 you are stunned to find yourself in a small town called Old Brooklyn. Brooklyn! In Ohio! This is mighty promising. That little pulse of excitement is awakened in your veins as you drive past a few tire shops and then drive past a gas station. Then another gas station. Then one more! Then a few shady bars, a pizza’n’ribs restaurant and a donut monstrosity called the “Donut Connection” that looks like one of the hatches on Lost.
Here, in this sleepy town of gas stations, donuts and grayness there is a revelation, a portal into a world of tastiness unimaginable: Welcome to the heart of sausage, my friends.
The Sausage Shoppe is easily missed, as it appears to be a mostly unadorned two-room house with an enlarged parking lot. The store itself consists of one long lengthwise counter with the meat, a freezer full of homemade sodas and jerky and a wall of cabinets loaded with goodies — European-style rolls and an assortment of sauerkraut, sauces and imported chocolates. Within this small confine, there is a gloriously intoxicating smell, smoky, garlicky and sweet.
My nose erupted in sniffles as soon as I entered the door; the smell of the sausages smoking in the next room mixed with the fragrance of the loads of hickory-smoked bacon sitting beautifully within the counter. The store’s online catalog has 401 options of sausages, pâtés, hams, ground beef and pierogies.
Since this was our first visit, we tried to get a wide but basic assortment of goodies, opting for the fresh kielbasa with garlic and four kinds of bratwurst: Old Brooklyn (flavored with crushed red pepper and cayenne), White (with milk, eggs and chives), German (with mustard seed) and the self-explanatory Beer.
I have always been a content sausage fan, but this assortment was an eye-opening look into the true depths of flavors, textures and levels of moistness to which sausage might aspire. The kielbasa was intensely herby and juicy, with each bite releasing a smooth garlicky liquid. The White shared this juiciness, but added an element of soft meltiness and creaminess, so that the meat texture was merely a base for the chives and milk. The German brat was completely different, a firm chewy sausage whose flavor is distinctive and deep, with the echoes of mustard and a smoky aftertaste.
The Old Brooklyn was out of control and evoked exclamations of “this is siiick” from my friends. With the most potent smell of the bunch, the Old Brooklyn induced our mouths — and noses — to tingle in anticipation.
Slightly less firm than the German, the Old Brooklyn captured the same meaty texture but had more juice, so that each bite released a new wave of intense and fiery pepper, still with the rich depth and smoothness of the softer sausages.
We had jerky as an appetizer to this delicious meal, and it was appropriately smoky and chewy.
The Sausage Shoppe seems to have perfected the art of packing a small piece of meat — any kind — with intense moistness and flavor; even the dry jerky seemed to stir our mouths into a salivatory frenzy.
The Sausage Shoppe is no restaurant, and unless you want to munch some jerky or drink a soda there is nothing you can eat without preparation. So go home and cook, you lazy bums!
We boiled our sausages in a bit of water, browned to perfection, served plain or on European-style brat rolls with some Dijon mustard or yellow mustard, depending on the flavor combo of the sausage. This is an amazingly fun and easy food to prepare, not to mention inexpensive, and there is something wonderful about eating gourmet and complex sausages while watching SportsCenter.
The Sausage Shoppe has done something incredible in perfecting a single craft of food-making. Each link is composed of dedication, passion and purpose. As I imagine our next trip on 480, hurtling down the highway, I can feel the goose bumps start to grow!