Summer grilling season is in full swing, but if you’re feeling like you’ve been there, grilled that, think again. Butcher shops all over the metro are having a baroque moment of extreme sausage creativity, resulting in a parallel flowering of local Midwestern sausage pride:
Extreme Creativity—Gummi Bears Included
A four-year-old butcher shop called Grundhofer’s in Hugo, Minnesota, has been making national news this month with their Gummi Bear Bratwursts. No, really. I talked to owner and founder Spencer Grundhofer, and he told me it all came about a full four years ago, when he was opening his shop. He asked everyone around him for requests, and the auto mechanic next door said, “Why not gummi bear bratwursts?” Grundhofer said, as anyone would, get out of here… And then when he opened his doors, a steady stream of customers began requesting them. Finally he asked: “Where is this coming from?” And someone laughed and told him, “It’s Joe next door.” Well, one thing led to another, and one day the shop was slow, so Grundhofer got to tinkering. And voila! Grundhofer has been quietly selling these Gummi Bear Brats for four years now, but then a couple weeks ago the local Hugo paper wrote about them, and then the national news followed, and they were on CNN on July 14th. Now Grundhofer is getting orders from all over the country—he told me he sends them out by U.S. Post, overnight, packed in dry ice; five packages cost someone in Ohio $100 just yesterday. I asked Grundhofer his secrets: Quality pork from Worthington, Minnesota, and fresh gummi bears. No really. Grundhofer won’t tell me the brand of gummi bears he uses, but told me they tested all kinds of gummi bears, and the ones he uses are, in his words, “Juicier, and shinier. The cut-rate ones have a dull look to them.” I asked him if buying gummi bears is like buying fish, and he said: “Yup! You look for the dark, shiny eyes.” He mixes the gummi bears in whole after the meat is already ground, and they melt away as they grill. The idea isn’t that crazy, when you think about it. People use brown sugar in brats all the time, which also melts away… No wait, it is that crazy. Grundhofer also makes a Grape Kool-Aid Brat, though Apple Cinnamon is his number-one seller, and number two is Bloody Mary, made with real green olives and chopped jalapenos. Grundhofer’s; 15449 Forest Blvd. N., Hugo, 651-426-2800; open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; grundhofers.com
Extreme Creativity: Locavore Edition
But you do not have to raid the candy counter to find cutting-edge unusual sausages. Clancey’s Butcher Shop, an all-local-meat butcher in south Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood, expands the sausage horizon in a very white-tablecloth-restaurant way, with offerings like their Fennel Pollen Bratwurst. Fennel pollen is just that, the grainy pollen created by fennel plants. It’s a traditional ingredient in Italy, in the spirit of using-everything-from-the-pig-but-the-snout, except in this case, it’s using everything in the fennel. It was widely popularized in the 2000’s by Mario Batali, and it’s a very nice seasoning; it has a sort of lemony, licorice-like, saffron-tinged duskiness. Now in a bratwurst! The Italians are not really a bratwurst people, but Clancey’s owner Kristin Tombers tells me that people really like it for two reasons: one, because it goes very well with fancy gourmet mustard—your chestnut mustard, violet mustard, and so on—and also because it works very well in Italian recipes, giving a particular local edge to a sausage cacciatore, for instance. But that’s not all! Clancey’s also makes a Blueberry Lamb Sausage based on a dish that was once on the menu at the Nicollet Island Inn. (The chef who was at the Nicollet Island Inn at the time helped Kristin Tombers open Clancey’s.) They also make a Citrus Marmalade Duck Sausage with the meat from Caledonia, Minnesota’s Au Bon Canard foie gras ducks. Both of these sausages are essentially appetizer sausages, or next-to-a-green-salad sausages, European-style sausages that don’t go in a bun, but just stand alone. Clancey’s Meats & Fish; 4307 Upton Ave. S., Mpls., 612-926-0222; Monday – Friday, 10–7, Saturday 10–6, Sunday 12–5; clanceysmeats.com
The Other Extreme: Radical Simplicity
But do sausages need to be laden with extraordinary ingredients to be extraordinary? Of course not! Kramarczuk is a northeast Minneapolis staple going strong since 1954, their reputation built on their classic old-world Eastern European sausages. Eastern Europe for the purpose of this discussion includes countries like the Ukraine, Poland, Russia, and Latvia—the countries that provided the people who built northeast Minneapolis. Those communities have looked to Kramarczuk for their sausage for generations, relying on them for their great sausages like the Ukrainian sausage, which is made with nothing but pork, salt, pepper, and garlic, or their Polish Kielbasa, a smoked pork sausage; or Kishka, big in cities like Minsk, and made from beef blood and buckwheat. I talked to general manager Nick Kramarczuk, a third-generation Kramarczuk butcher, who explained to me that Kramarczuk’s secret is all in the simplicity: No preservatives, no fillers, and a traditional way of building sausage flavor that relies on using the actual meat cuts for flavor. If you’ve never heard of this, you’re not alone; Kramarczuk says that one of the reasons he’s throwing his second annual Kielbasa Festival in September is to reconnect people with the excellence of classic northeast Minneapolis culture. What’s a Kielbasa Festival? It’s a three-day extravaganza in a tent next to Kramarczuk with polka bands, sausage, beer, more polka bands, and more sausage. You can buy an advance ticket at the market for $10, which guarantees you admission, and gets you a commemorative beer stein filled with a commemorative beer. Kramarczuk’s, 215 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; kramarczuk.com, 612-379-3018; Kielbasa Festival, 215 E Hennepin Ave. in the parking lot next to Kramarczuk’s in Minneapolis, Friday, Sept. 9, from 5-10 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 10, from 11 a.m.–10 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 11, from 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
What, you say you can do better? More creative, more radical, more ultra in every way? Well just don’t sit there, do something! As part of Kramarczuk’s Kielbasa Festival you can submit your own idea for the “ultimate kielbasa” to email@example.com by Thursday, September 1 at 11:59 p.m. If you win, Kramarczuk’s will make your sausage and sell it at the Kielbasa Festival; you’ll also get a new bike and gift card to Kramarczuk’s. So that you can buy all your friends a few pounds of your winning sausage? I think they’d like that.