Wechsler's Currywurst Bratwurst, a Taste of Berlin in the East Village
Wechsler's Currywurst Bratwurst
120 1st Avenue, New York NY 10012 (b/n 7th and St. Marks; map); No phone (can Mayor Bloomberg please pass a law requiring restaurants and bars to have a listed phone number?); currywurstnyc.com
Service: Friendly, unhurried
Setting: Tiny bar with a grill, fryer, beer tap, two tables and ten barstools
Compare It To: Apparently joints on every corner in Berlin
Must-Haves: Currywurst plate with fries, sauerkraut
Cost: $12 for a small currywurst plate with fries and a beer, plus tax and tip
Grade: B+ for the currywurst and fries, sauerkraut, and lamb, merguez, and wild boar sausages; C+ for the turkey and chicken sausages, potato salad, and kale
I think it's fair to say that New York has become one of the strongest, if not the strongest, culinary magnets for late-night street foods-cum faux hangover cures from all over the world.
Tamales, tacos, pizza, empanadas, arepas, falafel, Japanese curry, ramen, chicken pita, grilled corn, frites, banh mi, burgers, dumplings, and hot dogs can now be had on street corners and inside simple storefronts in every neighborhood where folks hang out and revel, 24-7.
Was there any global favorite you couldn't find in all these Gotham streateries? Well, according to Wechsler's Currywurst owner Andre Wechsler, yes there certainly was. What he missed from his beloved German hometown of Hamm was currywurst, that unique combination of steamed bratwurst slices bathed in a sweet, curry-spiced ketchupy sauce that Germans are so crazy about, they have a museum devoted to it.
So he opened Wechsler's in a tiny storefront in the East Village where the beer tap is almost, but not quite, as big as the kitchen.
As non-drinkers, Robyn and I cared not a whit about the twelve German beers served at Wechsler's. Nah, we went to see if "New York's first currywurst palace" (truth be told, it's more like a closet than a palace) would deliver the seriously delicious goods. We were there for the food.
The currywurst plate ($6 for a small and $10 for a large) is a grilled and sliced regular or slightly spicy Schaller & Weber bratwurst-like sausage bathed in a secret sauce and a pile of salty, dark, skin-on, FRESH french fries (Danny Meyer, please take note). Both the standard and the spicy sauce are sweet and ketchupy, with more than a visible dash of curry powder. It's a mighty tasty, extremely reasonably priced plate (a flimsy cardboard container, really) of food. Think of it as a hipster German Happy Meal.
You can also get a longer, thinner bratwurst uncut and unsauced ($6), with a tasty, brown-and-serve-like roll. But if you're at Wechsler's, ya really gotta get the currywurst.
The other sausages on the menu come from a purveyor Wechsler won't name, but after I told him that I had figured it out he asked me not to divulge his secret. All right, all right, Mr. Currywurst, I'll grant your wish. I can tell all of you that it is one of the standout Italian and French sausage makers in the country.
The winners in the currywurst alternative derby at Wechsler's (all sausages are $6): the wild boar sausage, which was juicy and had plenty of piggy flavor, the lamb sausage, which was just lamby enough for me; and the North African-inspired merguez, which packed plenty of heat in a relatively small but meaty package.
Sausage also-rans are predictably the chicken apricot and turkey cranberry sausages, which were simply too lean to get that juicy sausage explosion I like to get in my mouth when I bite into a piece of tube-shaped flesh.
The frites ($2) are really good though not as crisp as I would like; the sauerkraut ($3), imported from Germany and doctored here, is studded with juniper berries and loaded with flavor; the sauteed kale was studded with bacon; and the potato salad could use some salt. Regrettably, all three times I went to Wechsler's they were out of the Bretzel ($3), a soft pretzel being made by Royal Crown Bakery in Brooklyn.
After a couple of visits to Wechsler's, I've become a serious currywurst fan. In fact, I'm contemplating a trip to Berlin to immerse myself in currywurst culture—though I will probably skip the currywurst museum.