The Compleat Rainey Street: Banger's
In the past month, I've walked through every open door on Rainey Street. See the directory here.
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden
79 Rainey St. 323-229-2979, www.facebook.com/bangersaustin.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.01.12
Since I started the Compleat Rainey Street project July 17, three new places have opened: A Spanish trailer called Tapas Bravas, the rock-and-roll BackStage Grill behind Bar 96 and now Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden.
The adrenaline glow of opening week is still shining at Banger’s, the fortified sausage operation so big it takes a main room the size of a haybarn plus another house for offices, then a courtyard for people and an off-leash dog park in-between. It takes a lot of room to stock 25 sausages and 100-plus beers on a tap wall that stretches five handles tall for the length of a two-day bender. The main room is set with communal Valhalla tables that will seat 12, and from the long blond wood bar, you can watch petite snifters and Germanic liter mugs fill with envy in front of you.
It’s hard to assimilate so much small print on the big double-sided beer menu. It’s like eating at Shopsin’s in New York or reading the Oxford English Dictionary written by 100 half-drunk monks at a 100 typewriters.
The descriptions are concise and above all, useful. Like this for Cain’s Dark Mild: “Flavors of an English Brown Ale or Porter, but very sessionable. Popular style at pubs in the UK.” There. Or this, for Live Oak Roggenbier: “Similar to an Alt, but hazy. Showcases rye and wheat malt, not hoppy at all. Earthy, fruity, spicy.”
On Banger’s second night, I closed down the place with Drink.Well’s Michael Sanders and Eric Puga, the man behind the candid beer-a-day “An Avenue Blog.” I’d already tried Real Ale’s anniversary doppelbock ($4.75/9 oz.) — a deceptively light-stepper with an amber personality —and a Thirsty Planet’s Jittery Monk ($5.50/9 oz.), a combination of coffee and Belgian ale that speaks to our twin passions and finds chemical equilibrium between the two. Iced coffee with a shot of single malt, or a dubbel with a shot of espresso.
Those two beerhounds pushed me past my two-drink maximum with Jester King’s Boxer’s Revenge ($22 for a 25.4 oz. bottle), an ale as sour as the day after Facebook went public. But in a good way, jumping out of the glass with aromas like sandalwood incense. The nightcap brought three beers I’ve never tried and will never forget. That’s the point of 100 taps, right? Widmer Spiced IPA ($5.50/14 oz.) was like cold golden chai, a beer for any food that makes you sweat. Puga calls Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale ($5.75/pint) the most well-made beer in America and a remarkable bargain on top of that. I won’t argue; it’s a smooth glide in that groove between hops and malt. And a glass of Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron ($8/9 oz.) is a 12% alcohol nightcap of licorice, plum and Dr Pepper. Wear it with care.
Banger’s works the variety angle. A beer flight is an exercise in indecision for the customer and torture for the barkeep, but Banger’s takes the brave step of offering 12 different categories of flights, with 5-ounce pours of four beers ranging from $7.75 to $9.50. They’ve pre-selected flights of lager, pale ales, Belgians, stouts and more, or you can build your own. Bring a pen. Learn how to draw stars.
It’s all enough to make you forget to eat. Dan Jenkins calls this stage of inebriation “F--- Dinner.” The fact is, two days open is not the time for a review. Will you settle for descriptions? Banger’s isn’t the only gourmet dog stop in town. You can get antelope and rabbit at Frank, even a rattlesnake dog from the Wurst Tex trailer on South Congress. If nothing else, Banger’s predecessors set you up for the notion of a sausage made with duck and fig ($8), with a little rosy pink left in the center. As the fig seeds pop and the duck delivers its classic half-wild profile, it’s best appreciated with just a few sauteed sweet peppers on a sweet and fluffy kolache style bun.
Sausages here are an exercise in choice:
► The link: Andouille, bockwurst, sweet Italian, alligator boudin, antelope-and-venison and more, all lyrically described. My favorite line, for bratwurst: “If you have to ask, you’re probably in the wrong restaurant.”
► Bun: Pretzel, kolache, pumpernickel rye.
► Toppings (any 2): Caramelized onion, sweet peppers, hot peppers, BYFO peppers (I forgot to ask), sauerkraut, spicy sauerkraut, chili or a catch-all Olaf Sauce.
► Sauces: Three ketchups, three mustards, two ranches, gravy, barbecue sauce and a robust aioli with onion and garlic.
The classic banger ($7) is a hot dog in high form, in a sturdy casing with pork’s fatty magic at play. Ask for a pretzel bun for state-fair flare. It’s a dog that stands up to hot peppers, spicy mustard and the sweet counterpoint of caramelized onions.
There are also sausages for dogs. I might have mentioned in the past how I feel about dogs at restaurants. I got in a Twitter tango with the Banger’s crew over that dog park:
► @fedmanwalking: An off-leash dog park is a selling point for a place where people eat? Is free-range dog on the menu?
► @BangersAustin: Sorry to disappoint Mike but we don't serve dogs... But we do have sausages for dogs... You can't eat in the park. Only drink.
Point taken. There were in fact dogs in the courtyard where people were eating and drinking, but the designated dog park is its own gated community, about the size of a preschool sideyard. Still, I’d rather keep dogs and hot dogs at separate addresses. And don’t give either one a key.
Even in its infancy, Banger’s has the makings of Austin’s most impressive German-style biergarten. Scholz Garten has the tradition, but Banger’s has the beer. Now if we could just do something about that Rainey Street parking.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
THE COMPLEAT RAINEY STREET
► Bar 96