Many hours of my undergraduate career at the University of Wisconsin were spent at a place called the Brathaus. This campus landmark specialized in two things: brats and beer. (Brat = Bratwurst in Wisconsin.) It was there that I developed a taste for, and truly learned to appreciate, this fine form of beer-soaked sausage.
After graduation, I left Wisconsin -- and soon discovered that I'd also left the world of brats. Sure, there are places out there that claim to serve bratwurst. And in hopes of finding the real deal, I've been taken more than once. But I've never given up. If there is bratwurst on the menu, I'll order it -- because you never know when you're going to hit pay dirt.
Two Thursdays ago, persistence paid off. I unexpectedly struck gold at the most unlikely of locations -- the New Rolling Pin Bakery, a tiny downtown hole in the wall.
I was originally lured into the place, because it smelled so good as I walked by, early one morning. Very few aromas are as seductive as that of freshly brewed coffee and homemade baked goods -- both of which, I discovered, the Rolling Pin does well.
In fact, were it not for space constraints, I would wax poetic about the baked goods, the coffee and the brats. But I'm going with the brats. I will say this, however: You must see the display of baked goods for yourself. And you must try the enormous cinnamon rolls and their coffee, which is not mere brown water. In fact, every morning a different pastry and coffee (for under $2) is on special.
Anyway, the moment of brat glory came as I was waiting for the change from my morning purchase (cinnamon bun and coffee, $1.95). There, innocently sitting on the back counter waiting for its turn to sit up front, was a board announcing lunch specials. It read: Knockwurst, Bratwurst, Smoked Bratwurst -- with sauerkraut, chips and soda, $3.95.
"Is that your lunch special for today?" I asked, pointing to the sign. "You guys serve brats here?"
"Yup" was the reply. "Every day."
I was skeptical.
Later that afternoon, brats still on my mind, I lamented to my editor about the difficulty of finding a good brat since leaving the Midwest. Before I could even mention my morning discovery, she insisted I check out the New Rolling Pin Bakery -- at least, that's all I heard. If ever there was a sign, that was it. I was out the door and at the Rolling Pin before she even finished her sentence.
I ordered my brat, sans the soda, and waited with mouthwatering anticipation. The guy behind the counter said it would take six minutes. "We'll set you up," he assured me. "Go ahead and have a seat."
There are three tables and four counter stools to choose from inside the tiny bakery. I, however, stood and paced, taking in the homey but strange decor and the background polka music. For a while, I looked at all of the chotchkehs for sale -- everything from faux Beanie Babies, to tiny ceramic figurines, to a giant stuffed brown bear.
My attention turned to the bakery case and the rotating refrigerator case beside it. A woman purchased a whole cake, an elaborate-looking, multilayered torte.
From over the counter, a white paper bag came into focus. The food was ready. The moment of truth was about to come.
There are four essential components to a good brat: the sausage, the bun, a good spicy mustard and sauerkraut -- all of which were inside the "to go" box in their own separate compartments. Also included was a bag of chips and a small, but powerfully moist and rich teaser brownie to cleanse the palate.
It looked great even unassembled. Put together, it tasted even better than it looked. This was the real deal. On a round bun.
Dominick is the name of the guy behind the counter at the Rolling Pin Bakery. He and his mother are the ones responsible for the baked goods and brats. I've gotten to know Dominick well over the past few weeks. Sometimes, I feel silly going in there twice a day, but when you strike gold, you've got to stake your claim.
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