The pork kielbasa was smoky and carried a snappy casing. Beef-and-pork habanero cheddarwurst yielded a slow-building burn that left me reaching for my pilsner.
The little Nuremberg sausage links were the only fresh sausage on the menu at Rhein Haus Seattle. They were dotted with bits of fresh marjoram and an intense pork flavor.
The frankfurter oozed sausage juice with the nudge of a fork. The same thing happened when I squeezed the bratwurst. You dieters should just look the other way.
When Rhein Haus officially opens its expansive beer hall in Tacoma’s Stadium neighborhood Saturday, it will bring with it the same menu of German-leaning eats as its Seattle flagship restaurant, and that includes the housemade sausage.
I dug into six sausage varieties on a visit to the Seattle mothership (there’s also a Rhein Haus in Denver). Seven daily sausage selections always include one vegetarian version. At least five or six are cured, with the fresh Nurembergs always on the menu. New sausages enter the rotation continually.
I asked Pete Fjosne, the executive chef of Rhein Haus who will oversee Tacoma’s kitchen run by his apprentice, Kelly Wilson, about the restaurant’s sausage. I was surprised to learn that Rhein Haus’ sausage is all made on-site, and he has a trove of 100 sausage recipes dating back to when he was on the kitchen staff at Bastille, a sibling restaurant to Rhein Haus.
“On any given day, we process anywhere from 150 pounds. Today is a big production day. The guys will end up making 300 pounds of sausage today. But in any given week, we’ll go through 700 to 800 pounds of sausage,” said Fjosne in November.
The more questions I asked, the more I liked what I heard.
“We also do our own cured meats. We do summer sausage and cured blood sausage.” That last one comes with the texture of really firm salami, he said.
They also house smoke landjaeger, the popular snacking sausage (Tip: Hess Bakery and Deli in Lakewood and Blue Max Meats, which smokes its own on site, have landjaeger).
Said Fjosne, “We put juniper in it, red wine, lots of black pepper.”
In Tacoma, as in Seattle, there will be an on-site smokehouse that will be put into high production.
That smokehouse holds up to 100 pounds of sausage, but the kitchen crew typically smokes 25-pound batches at a time. Before it’s smoked, the pork and beef — from Carlton Farms and St. Helens Beef, respectively — is put through a “buffalo chopper,” which Fjosne described as “basically a robo-food processor turned on its side. It holds 25 pounds of meat. It’s an impressive piece of machinery. That’s what gives it the fine mince and emulsification. Not many restaurants have those. It’s (more likely) found in a meat processing facility because it’s expensive and takes up a large amount of room.”
Fjosne described the grind on the sausage as “more what you’d see in Germany.” A technique he uses is emulsification, which he described as the sausage equivalent of building a vinaigrette. The buffalo chopper — kept cold with the addition of ice so the blades don’t heat up the meat — is the first step in that process. Adding milk powder while mixing the sausage helps the sausage keep an even texture and prevents the fat from separating like a poorly made salad dressing.
“If you don’t put the milk powder in there, you’d cut into our kielbasa and it would start leaking out fat,” he said. “It creates a better mouth feel.” Salt and sugar — he uses powdered dextrose— are important components of the restaurant’s cured sausages.
A hydraulic stuffer to form the sausages holds 30 pounds of sausage at a time.
Next, it’s a trip to the smoker at 150 degrees and finally an ice bath to shock the sausage before cold storage.
“They plump in the smoker, then we shock them to that stage so when you reheat them, they actually hold that state and are plump,” he said. Sausages are grilled to order and come on a plate ($12-$13) with ’kraut and mashed potatoes, on a bun ($12-$14) with fries on the side or a giant sampler platter ($28) with ’kraut and mashed potatoes (or fries with curry ketchup if you ask your server really nicely).
Rhein Haus Tacoma is a 14,450-square-foot space with four bocce courts, two full bars and room for about 250 diners, with 50 more seats on the dining patio that faces Wright Park come spring.
The restaurant will serve happy hour and dinner daily with weekend-only brunch starting next month. Children are welcome and a kids menu offered.
The dinner menu features German-leaning dishes — spaetzle, schnitzel, cabbage rolls, goulash, sauerbraten, schweinschaxe among them — as well as pub food built for pairing well with more than 20 beers on tap. The menu will change every few months.
Rhein Haus Tacoma
Opening weekend hours: 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Regular hours: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays; noon-2 a.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Weekend brunch starts next month.