by Lee Lawrence
Don't let the sound of the place's name--Wurst Bar--fool you. It's not the worst spot; it's not even a bad one. In fact, the Wurst Bar, located on Cross St. in Ypsilanti, is a surprisingly good neighborhood restaurant inside a campy campus sports bar.
The scene changes, depending on the time of day and the day of the week. At one late-winter Friday lunch the bartender and I were the only females in the place, the tables populated by burly guys with beards and bellies, fleece and flannel. For much of a leisurely Sunday lunch, my family sat alone until we were eventually joined by two or three quiet couples. After high winds left the area without electricity for two days, the bar served a limited menu to an eclectic Saturday night crowd of all ages and affiliations. Tuesday night bingo brings in EMU students, a convention of kids with artificially elongated earlobes and tattooed figures crawling up their necks and down their arms onto fingers that play with smartphones, and Wednesday is a crowded Trivia Night after 8. The scene can be as diverting as the food, though the room--despite its tomato-red chandeliers and antler pendants, semi-circular booths, and high-top tables--feels a bit more warehouse-y than warm and inviting.
A noun rather than an adjective, the bar's name reflects its menu's focus--sausage. Made in-house, these links, whether traditional or exotic, are seriously good. Although I didn't sample all the many possibilities, each one I tried proved well made and uniquely seasoned, from the delicate rabbit and fig link to the robust duck and turkey option. A special "umami" bratwurst evoked the Asian accents of oyster and fish sauces, while the spicy Italian underlined bold, full flavors, as also did the North African-inflected bison-and-lamb merguez. Surprising me with its rich, juicy savor, heavily flecked with coriander seed, the poached PBR (as in Pabst Blue Ribbon) bratwurst triumphed as my favorite sausage. I don't think I've had a better
The sausages don't come unadorned. You choose a brioche or pretzel bun, made by Zingerman's Bakehouse, and as many as you like of their house-made toppings--crunchy sauerkraut, kimchi-kraut, sauteed onions or peppers, and spicy pepper relish. All are delicious. For condiments, lines of mustards march down the tables. To accompany your sausage, you can order regular or sweet potato tater tots, or a mix of both. Though not made in-house, the tots are still a fun alternative to fries or chips, but skip the cinnamon-spiced marshmallow fluff that tags along with the sweet potato ones; even my sister, a connoisseur of gunked-up sweet potato casseroles, found it too dessert-like.
Absolutely ask about the day's salad. I hadn't expected much in the way of greens at a bar, but we enjoyed two well-conceived and -executed salads at the Wurst. The first, shredded romaine with beets, grapefruit, and goat cheese, was light and refreshing; the other, the same lettuce with toasted pecans, breadcrumbs, and a creamy garlic dressing, simultaneously stimulated and satiated the appetite. I wish more of the area's higher-end restaurants offered such inventive salads. My only complaint concerned how they were served, in small cardboard boats rather than on real plates, making them awkward to eat.
For vegetarians, the menu lists two meatless links, and the special board usually posts a vegetarian burger. I confess to ignoring the meatless options, but based on the quality of the other food, I would guess that vegetarians, too, would be happy at the Wurst Bar.
Regular burgers, ground in-house from brisket and short ribs, some with inventive toppings, offer another alternative to sausages. My husband skipped the Nut burger, embellished with cheddar, bacon, and peanut butter, and the Wurst burger, a patty stacked with a brat, instead zooming in on the Southerner, topped with fried green tomato, bacon, and pimento cheese. Oddly, the kitchen doesn't take temperature preferences and cooks all burgers to medium-well. When pressed, the waiter mumbled something
about kitchen efficiency and spiced, well-marbled meat maintaining a juicy patty. Since other busy bars with tiny kitchens--Casey's, Red Hawk--have managed to cook burgers to temperature for years, I hope the Wurst Bar will eventually change its policy and make that tasty Southerner a real winner by cooking it as requested--in our case, to medium-rare.
Every bar should have some snacks, and the Wurst doesn't fail. I'm not sure why--maybe because we were worried about having room for a link afterward--but we never tried the nacho tots or their vegetarian counterpart; judging from the rest of the food, I imagine they would be a great way to soak up a cocktail or several of the artisan beers available. We did try the house-made curry wurst mini-corn dogs--three fat chunks of sausage on sticks encased in a thin, light, crispy cornmeal batter and served with a side of pimento cheese--a new and wonderfully improved rendition of the county fair standard. An order of the corn dogs with a salad could easily suffice for my dinner, finished off with a plate of mochi orbs, sticky rice cake-encased ice cream balls, chewy and creamy. Though not made in-house, they are a clever and luscious bar sweet.
In terms of eating, then, the Wurst Bar might be better known as the Best Bar, at least for us sausage- and burger-lovers. Living in semi-rural Superior Township north of Ypsilanti, my husband and I have often wished for a reliable local joint where we could get a quick, delicious meal with a beer or glass of wine. The Wurst Bar richly satisfies that wish.
705 W. Cross St., Ypsilanti
11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
Snacks and sides $2.50-$6, wursts and burgers $5.75-$7.
[Originally published in May, 2012.]