Sausage King of the Valley
A plump, sausage-shaped sign beckons from high above the flat warehouses of Burbank Boulevard: “Atlas Sausage Varieties: Fresh and Smoked Meats.” For 10 years, owner Michael Obermayer has worked six days a week grinding, mixing, poaching and smoking a dizzying variety of German sausages and cold cuts. Now he’s selling the business and there is just a short time to sample his take on the hearty flavors of southwest Germany.
Born in Passau, a jaunty Bavarian city on the Danube, Obermayer was trained at a legendary Landschut school for butchers shortly after the end of World War II. He came to the United States in 1955, and ever since, he has practiced his craft for teams of recent immigrants and adventurous Americans. With a thick white mustache sweeping down his upper lip, Obermayer is large and strong, just as one might expect of a butcher. His trade demands a curious combination of brute strength, a delicate palate and a dose of biochemical know-how.
Obermayer shows off the tools of his trade while his assistant stuffs and ties yards of veal sausage with elegant efficiency. His spotless kitchen is filled with implements that are powerful and just a little sinister. Bathtub-like poachers, a closet-sized smoker and saws and grinders gleam in the sunlight.
Up front in the store, by contrast, a good deal of effort has been made to cozy up the place. The shop is defiantly neighborly in the valley’s network of superstores and mini-malls. Giant lekbuchen (cookie) hearts hang behind the counter near sunny posters of Bavaria. Monika Zivers, who doubles as counter person and bookkeeper, greets customers by name and offers cooking advice. She is a patient guide to Atlas’ broad array of meats.
Sausages range from the mild, grassy, juiciness of veal links, like the skinny Nurnberger bratwurst and the lemony Munchen weisswurst, to fiery tiger weiners and paprika-loaded Hungarians. Although Obermayer is a stickler for traditional flavors and methods, he is very proud that his products are relatively lean and low in sodium.
Beyond sausages, Atlas serves up cold cuts of all kinds. Obermayer makes four versions of head cheese alone: German, Czech, Hungarian and French. Baloney also comes in many shapes and sizes. One kind, decora, has swirls of pungent herbs to perk up the mild pink meat. Liverwurst lovers can choose between the coarse, the fine, or the slightly baroque alpenkraut, which is loaded with herbs and cream. One of the most unusual flavors offered at Atlas is the teewurst, which spreads like liverwurst but is all pork. It is redolent of rum and raspberry.
Hams are brined and smoked in-house. The classic Black Forest ham is lovely: Its rosy hue is offset by a dark, smoky crust. One can also pick up dried sausages for a picnic, house-cured kaiser bacon, and smoked ham hocks to bring soulful bass notes to a big pot of beans. Fridays and Saturday are special days at the store, when Obermayer serves up hot roast pork and slices of leberkas, a veal-based meatloaf.
Atlas still draws many German clients eager for a taste of home. But as the demographics of the city change, so do the customers. Obermayer now serves a lot of Mexican-Americans who had once enjoyed the products of German butchers in Mexico.
He laughs as he holds up some geschwollen, skinless sausages that are often served in tortillas. “We call them naked Bavarians in Mexican blankets.”
Atlas Sausage Kitchen, 10626 Burbank Blvd., N. Hollywood. (818) 763-2692. Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.