It can be difficult to make a name for yourself while still standing in the shadow of a much more famous relative. A fact that famous siblings like Solange Knowles and Dave Franco know quite well.
What if your sibling is not a celebrity, but a neighborhood anchor that’d been filling the hearts and stomachs of its community for over thirty years? How then does one break from the shadows to let everyone know they are a worthy successor?
For The Wurst Bar, the answer is simple: great food, a wide variety of booze, attentive wait staff, modern décor and a healthy serving of good will.
Situated in what used to be home to Theo’s Bar, The Wurst Bar is the latest addition to the Cross Street collection of watering holes and restaurants. Because of its decision to focus on gourmet bratwursts instead of the usual Coney Island style fare, it opened in January 2012 to a mixture of confusion and excited anticipation. Nearly three months later, Wurst is proving that it might not be the worst.
My first experience at Wurst came two days before I sat down to review it officially. As my Facebook friends know, I wasn’t impressed. But after having some time to digest my initial issues, which included pricing and atmosphere, I realized my first impression was almost entirely wrong.
I say almost because even after one bite of their “Sweet Tots,” there was no denying the food was amazing. On my second trip, I was able to sample a wider array of their unique menu and my love affair continued.
First up was the Curry Wurst Mini Corndog ($6/3pc), which is a has a traditional brat dipped in batter, deep fried, sprinkled with curry and served with pimento cheese and curry ketchup. I’m a big fan of using curry in non-traditional ways and although the curry dog is hardly new, it was definitely a delicious start to a meal.
The coating was sweet and crunchy; the curry was very subtle but noticeable. Although I enjoyed
not being bombarded by curry flavor, I did find myself enjoying it more as the flavors built up on my tongue. I did find the deep fried sausage to be a little greasy – obviously – but it didn’t detract from the taste or texture.
Next was the Hot Wing Chaurice brat ($7), a chicken-pork brat with a Frank’s Red Hot hot wing coating, served with blue cheese crumbles on a brioche bun.
In this brat, I found a lot of contrasting yet well-balanced flavors. The blue cheese meshed well with the flavors of the sausage without being too salty. The hot wing portion didn’t detract from the party either. In fact, I was surprised the brat wasn’t spicier.
I did find both the Zingerman’s brioche bun and the sausage itself to be drier than I would like.
Following “Hot Wing Chaurise” was their “Southerner Burger” ($7), a traditional beef burger, topped with pimento cheese and bacon.
A traditional beef burger might not sound like anything special. But at Wurst, traditional is relative. All of their burgers are made with prime brisket, short rib and chuck seasoned with umami spices.
Without a doubt the Southerner made this proud northerner weak in the knees. The meat was juicy, flavorful and spiced to accentuate that hearty, fatty meat flavor provided by the choice cuts of beef. The pimento cheese, which I wasn’t impressed by in its “Curry Wurst” implementation, was used to salivary perfection. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of the fried green onion, which presented a distraction from the – pun intended – meat of the meal.
The Southerner Burger was served with a side of “Sweet Tots” ($2.50), which is a tater tot that is made from sweet potatoes and served with a whipped cinnamon buttercream dip.
On my first trip to Wurst, I was able to try a few of their tots and this was my favorite. But when I live my life calling sweet potatoes “awesome potatoes” and tater tots “awesome fries” it’s not hard to imagine I would consider selling all my worldly possessions for an IV drip of “Sweet Tots.” If you’re smart, you’d do the same.
Ending my meal for the night was what they call “Puppy Chow.” It’s essentially chex mix clustered with chocolate and bacon ($2.50). They also have a bacon-free vegetarian option, which I would have preferred. The Chex Mix with chocolate was a sweet treat, but I found the bacon to be distracting because it was separated from the Chex clusters.
Although food is clearly the main feature of Wurst, there is still plenty to enjoy behind their fully stocked bar. On any given night the bar features all the spirits you expect at a bar, but it also features wine and more than 40 beers. Most of the beers they serve are microbrews from some of Michigan’s most celebrated breweries including Uncle John’s and Dark Horse.
That brings me back to my first impressions. On my first visit, one of my biggest issues was the pricing. I was concerned that a $7 sausage might not be worth it for many college students, but Wurst does their best to include those who are monetarily deficient in on the fun.
Along with the $7 “unusual” sausages (rabbit, spicy rattle snake, alligator, hot wing and bison) and burgers (“Southerner,” bratwurst and peanut butter) they also have several “usual” selections ($5.50). These more cost-efficient mains forgo the spectacle in exchange for pure taste, flavor and awesome.
All of Wurst’s burgers and brats come with the option of a brioche pretzel bun free of charge.
You can add cheese to any burger for 75 cents and toppings to any brat for free. Those cheeses include cheddar, Swiss and pimento cheeses along with “Kimchi-Kraut,” sautéed onions, sweet peppers and spicy peppers.
After having a chance to taste and enjoy the food and see how that compares to other gourmet burgers and sausages I have had, I would now say the pricing is generous. This is especially true for the “unusual” mains, which include ingredients that are far more expensive than their reasonable prices suggest.
My other major concern about Wurst was the atmosphere. On both of my visits, the music was too loud to hold a conversation and the patrons were clearly not college students. This was a rather jarring change coming from the welcoming, family atmosphere of Theo’s.
But this critique I find to be rather unfair. Wurst is not Theo’s. Wurst is a bar all its own and with that comes a new way of doing things.
One of the many new things about Wurst is its slick, hip and modern décor. From the restored vintage 1950s leather benches, to the red accent lighting and the purposefully opposing faux-antler and faux-crystal teardrop chandeliers, the décor is gorgeous.
Sure, it might attract the tragically hip from miles around, but that shouldn’t mean a less hip or modern local wouldn’t feel at home there. But it appears the community is still warming to this newcomer. On both of the nights I visited Wurst, it was full of 20-somethings wearing ironic t-shirts, muted skinny jeans and their best attempt at disaffected scowls of entitlement.
Although current Eastern Michigan University students might not feel they have a place in Wurst, I think the much-needed facelift might prove to pay off in the long run.
Among all the new, beautiful things in Wurst sits a very ugly oversight: the bathroom. The owners clearly put a lot of work into most parts of the building, but the bathroom is the same dank travesty from the building’s Theo’s history.
The bathroom is a pretty big oversight, but according to a sign on the bathroom door, that inconsistency will be remedied.
It’s not always smart to copy the formula that was successful for someone else, look at Ali Lohan or that other Olsen sister. Carving out it’s own niche in the Ypsilanti community will allow Wurst to avoid living in the shadow of the now deceased Theo’s and possibly lead it through a long future.
For my sake, it better because a life without “Sweet Tots” is not a life worth living.
For more information on The Wurst Bar, visit their website.