Sausage is the best food on the planet.
I’ve been claiming this for a while with a slight smirk on my face, just to recognize my lifelong fondness for encased meats, as hot links, Italian sausage, kielbasa, and linguica have been a common part of my plate for as long as I can remember. But I’ve gotten more serious about the claim in recent years and now believe that it’s a very defensible position. Here’s why I’m right.
Sausage is global, made by many, perhaps even most, cultures of the world. It is sustainable by design, using the less desirable parts of an animal — or vegetable — that might otherwise be thrown away. It comes in a range of flavors, from savory to sweet, and also ingredients, including numerous non-meat versions these days. It is really easy to cook, whether grilled, boiled, fried, baked, or microwaved. It is versatile, perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late night. It can be enjoyed alone, or with a dipping sauce, or wrapped in bread, or as part of a more elaborate dish, like cassoulet or choucroute garnie. And almost always, it is utterly delicious.
So when Doug Margerum emailed me to see if I’d like to check out a new sausage that he’s serving at his tasting room down by the beach on Mason Street, we found ourselves seated together for lunch four days later. Before even eating, though, I quickly realized how much food was now part of the Margerum Wine Company experience: Everyone sipping wine there that day was eating as well, enjoying the pizzas, paninis, salads, and small bites prepared by Chef Carolyn Kope. She’s mastered the location’s tiny kitchen so well that their monthly “Supper Club” dinners for wine club members are instantly sold-out affairs, with hefty waiting lists.
When Kope brought out lunch — on the menu as the El Sol Sausage Plate, with a link, salad, mustard, and grilled bread for $18 — our focus turned to the pork chorizo. It was full of meaty flavors and ample spice, but the texture was key: Rather than the overly ground paste that comes in so many processed sausages, this was visibly chunky and provided a very satisfying chew, so it was obviously a handmade affair.
El Sol is the work of Alfredo Sanchez, an Argentinian man who cooks in a Goleta commercial kitchen. He just showed up at the tasting room one day with his sausage and introduced himself to Doug. “I just immediately liked the guy,” said Doug. Kope did too and began buying the El Sol sausage.
She’s also interested in a few more items from El Sol and shared a couple with us: a Welsh-style, cheese-stuffed Glamorgan sausage as well as a filet of cooked trout topped with red pepper and bacon. Both were tasty, and the trout was especially unique, as it’s not common to see prepared fish sold to restaurants in this form. But it works quite well as a complex wine pairing.
I plan to call Sanchez very soon to hear more about his story and see what else he is creating. And I’m also intrigued with Kope, who was most recently in room service before rising to her current chef role. (Though she does have plenty of otherwise relevant experience working at Wine Cask and Whole Foods.)
Just looking at recent Supper Club menus reveals that she’s a masterful cook, even in such a cramped kitchen with Turbofan ovens as the primary tool. Fig-glazed duck breast, sundried tomato ravioli, handmade pesto gnocchi, and braised short rib with polenta are just a few items from the past three months of Supper Clubs.
Sign me up when she adds the sausage!
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Toasting Calera Founder Josh Jensen
Josh Jensen of Calera Winery, who was a legend in California pinot noir, died on June 11 in San Francisco. I wrote a piece about his life and impact for Wine Enthusiast last week, and I spoke to Santa Barbara County pinot noir legends Richard Sanford and Greg Brewer for their insights. It turns out that a bottle of 1987 Calera is what directed Brewer to his own winemaking style, while Sanford and Jensen went back decades as friends and competitors.
Sanford, who learned about Jensen’s death from my Monday morning text message, pulled out a couple of bottles of 1979 Calera from his cellar that day. “We should share one of these together, Matt,” he implored in his regal tone. I happened to be driving through the Santa Ynez Valley a few days later, after a visit to Rancho Sisquoc Vineyard, so we made a date for Thursday night at Nella.
Richard’s wife, Thekla Sanford, joined us on the patio that afternoon, and we looked at the two bottles of 1979 that they’d saved. When the sommelier made a birth year joke — he was clearly a bit older than a 1979 vintage — Thekla remarked that their daughter, Blakeney, was born that year.
“Maybe you saved these for her?” I wondered, to which their eyes bulged a tiny bit. We decided to drink just one, and I suggested the one with the slightly messed-up label, so that Blakeney could enjoy the pristine one.
After a careful cork extraction and decanter pour, we toasted Josh and reminisced with our own stories about him, theirs being much more detailed and hilarious than my brief experiences. There were slight tears and heartfelt words, and the wine was fantastic, 43 years later.
From Our Table
In this week’s issue:
- I used to edit D.J. Palladino almost every week when he’d write about food and many other topics for the paper. But then he bought The Mesa Bookstore, started penning novels, and stopped writing for the paper. So I was happy when, out of the blue, he sent me a piece about Meet Up Chinese Cuisine on Las Positas Road, where a robot serves you food. I’ve been meaning to go there for months, so I hope this doesn’t make getting a seat impossible. Say hi to Shadu for me!
- I touched base with my friend Laura Booras, who turned the Santa Maria Valley’s Riverbench brand from just a vineyard into a prominent winery with a sparkling wine program and Funk Zone tasting room. She’s moved back to her home state of North Carolina to help her dad run his Freedom Beverage Company, and she gave us an update on her new career.