If you fire up the barbecue this weekend you may be engaging in a tradition that stretches back to the ancient Greeks. Homer's "Odyssey," written in 850 B.C., describes cooking "sausages over a scorching blaze."
Less nobly, they are called hot dogs, frankfurters, bangers or meat sticks. They come in thick tire-shaped tubes, marble-sized nuggets and dainty ladyfinger links, and can be made of pork, chicken, beef, duck, turkey, potato or even fish.
Culinary historians believe sausages are the oldest way to preserve meats, and they are a part of nearly every culture. Pick any sausage--Italian pepperoni, German bratwurst or Mexican chorizo--and it will mirror the tastes of a part of the world.
In the San Fernando Valley, butcher shops reflect their ethnic heritage by making sausages fresh daily, so there is no reason to worry about the nitrates and preservatives in mass-produced hot dogs. A controversial recent USC study, which linked eating more than a dozen hot dogs a month with an increased risk of childhood leukemia, could nudge consumers into giving fresher alternatives a try. Buying from these stores may cost a few cents more, but the sausage-makers--who are almost religious about their calling--say you will get a fresher, tastier and healthier sausage.
Sausage-making is the "highest level of the butcher's art," says Bruce Aidells, owner and chef of the Aidells Sausage Co. in San Francisco. "Sausage-eaters are very experimental.
"The great thing about sausages is that if you have a good one, you've got an instant meal," Aidells says. "They can be in a pasta, a soup, or you can eat them by themselves." Aidells has chronicled American heritage through (what else?) sausage-making--all the while encouraging people to try new sausages--in his "Hot Links and Country Flavors" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1990).
On this, the traditional hot-dog weekend, it may be time to put aside the Oscar Mayers and try Fat Harold's Bulk Sausage or buffalo jalapeno, or any number of dozens of fresh sausages available across the Valley.
ANTHONY'S OLD FASHIONED MEAT
Anthony Monaco has "been in the business since age 8," he says, when he would help make sausages at his father's butcher shop in Queens, N.Y.
Business has been good for Monaco--his Woodland Hills store has been open for 20 years, and a second store in Northridge opened about two years ago. The original store shares space with Rick's Seafood Emporium, where owner Rick Rittner contributes a sausage to the huge list that hangs on Monaco's back wall.
"Customers kept asking for a fish sausage, so one day I did it," Rittner says. "I make it out of what's available--red snapper, swordfish, Atlantic cod." While Monaco makes a tasty lamb and basil link, his best-selling creation is Italian pork sausage. "It's what I take home to my wife," he says. "She won't let me in the door without it."
Anthony's Old Fashioned Meat, 9129 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, and 19822 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. Open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Woodland Hills, (818) 884-6666. Northridge, (818) 993-1950.
Mark Bogash left a high-paying property management job two years ago to join the family business to "make sausage. That's what I truly love to do," he says.
Bogash runs Holiday Meats with his brother Michael and father, Harold, who will retire soon but plans to come in at least two days a week to make sausage.
"Our Louisiana-style andouille sausage is awesome," Mark Bogash says of the specialty meat that he often uses in jambalaya and cioppino. New on their list of 23 sausages is a turkey wiener that's 95% fat-free. Their oldest fare is "Fat Harold's Bulk Sausage," which Dad has been making since he opened the shop in 1963. "It's a blend of hot and mild Italian sausage and herbs. People use it for everything, from breakfast sausage to dinner meats," Mark Bogash says.
Holiday Meats, 8344 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, (818) 884-1025.
Fred Thaller remembers the time at Ma Maison when Orson Wells introduced Thaller as his personal sausage-maker. "He was particularly fond of our chicken apple breakfast sausage," Thaller recalls.
Like most sausage-makers, Thaller learned his craft from his father, back in his Austrian homeland. "I am European-trained, but I've converted old recipes into today's demand," Thaller says, citing his fresh chicken and turkey with sun-dried tomatoes, which he makes exclusively for Trader Joe's. Alpena has been around since 1967, but Thaller stopped selling retail three years ago to concentrate on his wholesale business. Find his chicken and turkey wieners at Mrs. Gooch's stores and pick up his other sausage creations at Bristol Farms, Jons and Gelson's markets.
ATLAS SAUSAGE KITCHEN
"Every sausage we sell comes from this smokehouse," says Michael Obermayer, owner of Atlas Sausage Kitchen. "Doesn't it smell wonderful in here?" Atlas is the granddaddy of Los Angeles homemade wursts--the store has been around for 50 years, and the original wooden smokehouse still cures Atlas links. Obermayer creates such Austro-Hungarian delights as fat Munich-style weisswurst and smoky Hungarian Kolbasz.
Obermayer studied sausage-making in his native Bavaria (and later in Chicago) before taking the helm at Atlas 15 years ago. His pleased customers keep coming, even after they've moved. "We have people drive from San Diego, Santa Barbara and Phoenix for our sausages," he says.
Atlas Sausage Kitchen, 10626 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, (818) 763-2692.
EUROPEAN MEAT SPECIALTIES
Open the door to this little bit of Ukraine and step into a world of flavorful garlic, cumin and caraway smells. On crowded Saturday afternoons, you can barely hear English spoken at this Eastern-European market, where owner Mike Rayevsky will gladly give you a huge sample of his daily sausage specials. "We do over 50 types of sausages. That's about 2,000 pounds of sausage daily," he says.
He is especially proud of his Krakow salami, Soviet sausage and wide assortment of blood sausages. "When you think about it, sausages are the soul food of Eastern Europe," he says.
European Meat Specialties, 12926 Saticoy St., No. 12, North Hollywood. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, (818) 982-2325.
JODY MARONI SAUSAGES
Jody Maroni calls his sausages "haute dogs," because his 14 kinds defy traditional recipes. "We put a California twist on the old-fashioned wiener," says the self-proclaimed sausage king of Venice Beach and now CityWalk. The son of a butcher from Studio City, Maroni started his business 15 years ago, and he thinks he's lured skeptics back to sausage.
"Our sausages are very healthy. In fact, our chicken Italian sausage is only 11% fat," he says. Maroni creations include Moroccan lamb, chicken and duck with basil, orange-garlic-cumin sausage, and Bombay bangers. Look for Maroni's Yucatan sausage at local Trader Joe's stores.
Jody Maroni Sausages, Universal CityWalk, Universal City. Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, (818) 622-5639. In Venice, at 2011 Oceanfront Walk. Open 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday. (310) 306-1995. To place a mail order, call (800) HAUT-DOG.
CONTINENTAL GOURMET SAUSAGE CO.
An impressive array of framed awards hangs on the back wall of Eugen Goetz's store, which he took over five years ago. He has turned this unassuming local operation into an internationally known label, with more than 26 awards from the California Assn. of Meat Processors.
"My sausages have broken records--they even know me in Germany," Goetz says as he shows off his Grand Champion Schweizer Bockwurst, Thuringer Blutwurst and other sausages in the refrigerator cases. He bought the place to see if he could re-create what he learned as a sausage-maker 26 years ago in his German homeland. "I guess once you know something it always comes back to you," he says. "I surprised even myself."
Continental Gourmet Sausage Co . , 6406 San Fernando Road, Glendale. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, (818) 502-1447.
SCHREINER'S FINE SAUSAGES
Jenny Bison of Burbank remembers going to Schreiner's as a child in the '60s and watching her grandmother pick out links of juicy knackwurst and Leberwurst. Today, her family still shops at Schreiner's for their twice-a-year family feast.
Owner Walter Schreiner, now 85, has been overseeing the production of sausages for 40 years, along with his son Walter, 63, and grandson Walter, 33.
Their ethnically diverse sausage list includes Italian linguica, fresh chorizo, Swedish potato sausage and chicken bratwurst with jalapeno. Schreiner's luncheonette serves German delights along with sausage sandwiches.
Schreiner's Fine Sausages, 3417 Ocean View Blvd., Glendale. Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, (818) 244-4735.
When Bruce Oxford was a child living on the North Dakota plains, his tasty jack rabbit sausage used to impress the old-timers. Now, 45 years later, Los Angelenos can sample such Oxford sausages as lamb basil, turkey with apples or exotic buffalo jalapeno.
Oxford has been selling what he calls "good, old-fashioned meat" all his life. He praises his South Dakota buffalo meat--"as a health food, you just can't beat it"--because, he says, it is lower in cholesterol and fat than any other red meat. Harmony Farms meats are at selected health food stores, but his homemade sausages are sold only at his retail outlet. (There's no jack rabbit on the menu though.)
Harmony Farms, 2824 Foothill Blvd., La Crescenta. Open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, (818) 248-3068.
VONS PAVILIONS STORES
Since 1991, three local Vons Pavilions stores have had full-time sausage-makers churning out daily batches of kielbasa, Irish potato and creamy veal sausage.
"The idea of providing homemade sausage was developed as part of Pavilions' 'fresh concept,' " says Julie Reynolds, public relations director for Vons. "Our research showed sausages would be in high demand."
Seventeen varieties are available with or without casings.
Vons Pavilions stores: 1110 W. Alameda Blvd., Burbank, 6 a.m. to midnight daily, (818) 567-0257. 1135 Lindero Canyon Road, Thousand Oaks, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, (818) 597-1261. 6534 Platt Ave., West Hills, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, (818) 999-5939.