I was blessed to be back in the birthplace of everything cool, otherwise known as Austin, Texas, for a full seven days last week. It had (unfortunately) been far too long since I had spent any semblance of time in our wonderful city, and the first thing I noticed was how much the city has changed since I left the 40 Acres. Downtown has blown up, several of my favorite stomping grounds have closed, and the traffic is somehow worse than it ever was. Still, as much as things change inside the City Limits, the more they stay the same. Austin still thrives on local business, even if some of the local businesses aren't the same players from days long gone.
One of the new establishments I was fortunate enough to visit is Banger's Sausage House and Beer Garden located at 79&81 Rainey Street. Those of you Austinites who at this point are saying, "Shane, Banger's has been there for a while; we already know it's great!" please remember that Rainey Street as a restaurant/bar district did not exist when I was an undergrad, nor did it exist for many others, and it's important that we share the secret of this great area with other Longhorns who may not know about all the upgrades to our fair city.
Anyway, upon learning our group was going to a sausage and beer garden, needless to say I was excited (blame the German ancestry), though I was hardly prepared for what was to come. I expected a quiet atmosphere with a few sausage combinations and a fair number of quality beers. Was I wrong. Upon entering Banger's I first noticed that the indoor seating is compromised mostly of long picnic tables capable of seating parties of 12 or more. Hardly quiet. There is also a very large patio area, but due to chilly weather we elected to remain indoors. Regardless of where you sit, if you have a large group, fear not; Banger's has you covered. If not, you'll be able to make new friends over several excellent pints of beer.
Did I mention the beer? It's kind of important. Once you're through the entrance you turn to your right and you see it: The kind of bar that beer nerds dream of. One hundred and four taps mounted on the wall just waiting to dispense a glorious river of lager and ale. While waiting for our table I talked some shop with the very knowledgeable and pleasant bartender who was able to make a fantastic beer recommendation based on our conversation. I was in the mood for a dark wheat beer, and the Live Oak Primus Weizenbock did not disappoint. We'll definitely be discussing that particular brew down the road.
Once we were seated I finally got the opportunity to browse the Banger's menu. This was not your typical beer pub menu with a few sausages for fair measure. No, Banger's advertises sausage and Banger's delivers with the majority of the menu centering around building your own meal. First, you pick your sausage from one of the four sausage sections: traditional, veggie, exotic, and poultry; there are a total of 13 different sausages to choose from. Second you choose either a pretzel, pumpernickel wheat, or kolache bun. You can also choose the bunless "salad" version, but for purposes of this series, I pretended that option didn't exist. Finally, you get your choice of two toppings and two sauces. Sides come a la carte if you go the "build your own sausage" route, and for those of you who aren't feeling adventurous, there are some pre-made meals under the "Special Sausages" section of the menu.
In making my decision I first decided that I didn't want anything traditional because I can get bratwurst any time. Second, I assumed I would lose all street cred if I ordered a poultry sausage on my first visit, and much like the "salad" option, I just pretended the veggie sausages weren't even an option. Exotic it was. I struggled between "Smokey and the Boar" and "South Texas Antelope and Venison Merguez." The former is a wild boar sausage smoked with onions and garlic, and the latter is made with red wine, red peppers, cinnamon and cloves. I have never eaten bad boar sausage, and because this particular version was made with onions and garlic, two of my favorite ingredients, I ultimately decided to be adventurous and go with the venison. I put it on a pretzel roll, added caramelized onions, spicy peppers, and spicy sauerkraut (extra toppings are 75 cents each), and I topped it off with spicy mustard and curry ketchup. To round out the meal I added a side of jalapeno cream corn with onion gratin.
When my plate arrived I dug into my meal with fervor. The first thing I noticed was that I should have only added two toppings like the menu suggests. I felt like the three toppings masked the flavor of the sausage a bit, but that's my fault, not the restaurant's. That said, the flavors were very well balanced in the sausage, and nothing in particular stood out. This was particularly important to me because I am not a big fan of cinnamon, so I was pleased that flavor had its place in the recipe and didn't stand out. The sausage itself was on the dryer side of the spectrum as I expected because it was made from antelope and venison, and the curry ketchup and spicy mustard complemented each other very well. The creamed corn was phenomenal; Banger's boasts that if you can find a better item on the menu tell your server. Well, I got a bite of someone's German style potato salad, and I have to say, it's close. Regardless, the sides are served in mason jars which is just pretty damned cool.
At the end I felt that my money was well spent at a quality establishment. The atmosphere was great, the beer and beer selection were excellent, the food was outstanding, and waitstaff did a fantastic job of handling our large group.
Banger's on Rainey Street officially gets the Tastes of Texas stamp of approval, and I hope y'all get the opportunity to sample this awesome piece of "New Austin" in the near future.