Does anyone want to buy a German sausage shop? 'Cause I'll go in half with you. Seriously, I'm considering taking up a collection among local sausage fanatics, because the best old-school sausage shop in San Diego, Sausage King, is on the brink of extinction-and this city just wouldn't be the same without it. Where else will I get homemade liverwurst, in both smooth and coarse textures, and each totally delicious?This wouldn't be a worry for most people, but for me it's a cause for panic. The quaint Mission Hills shop, tucked between a liquor store and a karaoke bar, has operated largely under the radar since it opened in the 1960s, but fans of the handmade sausages and meats, done in the classic old-world style, have remained faithful, frequent customers. Charlotte and Fred Spenner, who've co-owned and run the shop for more than four decades, are understandably weary of the daily grind. Charlotte wishes she could retire but says her doctor tells her the work keeps her young. So the couple continues to cure and smoke their sausages, cold cuts and other German meats, knowing that they're maintaining a special tradition in a day and age when the thrust toward faster and cheaper is getting out of control.
During a recent visit to the shop, Charlotte guided me through the selections in the refrigerated display case and handed me tastes of this and that while we talked. When I asked her about the flavor differences between the three types salamis, she said it's impossible to explain: 'It's like telling colors to a blind man.' I'm not exactly sure I follow, but it sounded nice in her softly accented, no-nonsense tone. A smoked bratwurst went into my bag, followed by a pale, mild bockwurst and a couple stubby links of garlicky knackwurst. And I couldn't resist one of each type of liverwurst or a few slices of lightly smoked Westphalian ham. My sack was already bulging with meat, but Charlotte talked me into half a length of mettwurst, a soft cured pork sausage meant to be eaten raw. Precious cargo in hand, I ran across the street to Venissimo Cheese for wedge of Belgian Chimay, a soft pungent cheese whose rind is washed with Chimay Trappist beer, by monks no less, and then I headed over to my friend Martin's house, where a Friday-night potluck-turned-Oktoberfest was already underway. An array of German beers was already chilling when I arrived-brews from Paulaner and Spaten. We downloaded an appropriate soundtrack for the dinner, settling on a compilation of oompah music and drinking songs-my favorite was 'The Hungry Lumberjack' by the Bavarian Beesingers. Further Germanic atmosphere was added by a film from Martin's collection, a 1920s German silent animated feature called The Adventures of Prince Achmed, mesmerizing with its moving black silhouette cutouts on gorgeous pastel-tinted backgrounds. We laid out the meats and cheese with a selection of mustards and a jar of tangy pickled beets from Sausage King's deli section. The liverwurst, richly spiced and flecked with herbs, was a huge hit, spread on thin slices of hearty German rye bread. We're all daredevil eaters, but no one wanted to tackle the mettwurst raw, so we tumbled it along with the other sausages into a pan to brown, splashed in some water and then covered the pan to let the meat heat through and moisten. My excellent friends had whipped up a braised cabbage and apple dish-sort of a savory applesauce-and a bacon-flecked German potato salad to supplement the meal. Sausages nicely cooked, we finally got around to eating.
All the sausages received thumbs up. Each is differently seasoned, but all are delicious examples of the artisanal work honed at Sausage King. Special mention goes to the smooth-textured knackwurst-sort of a grown-up and worldly frankfurter-and the dense and full-flavored smoked bratwurst. We ended the night browsing through a friend's well-received contribution to the party, a picture catalog from the Erotic Museum in Berlin, which might have been the stimulus for our host to break out his bottles of Absinthe, anise-flavored liquor imported from Germany, which we sipped while demolishing a bag of spicy-sweet pfeffernuese cookies. Sausage King, 811 West Washington St. in Mission Hills, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 619-297-4301.