Battle of the Bratwurst

With spring training around the corner, our thoughts have turned to stadium foods: hot dogs, Cracker Jacks, brats. Made from ground pork, beef or veal, the bratwurst somehow managed to cross worlds from German foodstuff to ballpark treat. Maybe it was the fact they're traditionally soaked in beer.

For this week's Battle of the Dishes, we traveled to two local Bavarian restaurants to see who had the best of the bratwursts.

In One Corner: Haus Murphy's
5739 W. Glendale Ave. in Glendale

Beware the brat: These wursts will do their worst on your clothes.
Beware the brat: These wursts will do their worst on your clothes.

Located in the historic brick buildings of Downtown Glendale, Haus Murphy's oozes old-world German charm. Don't expect the sleek, refined decor you'll find at most modern restaurants. Haus Murphy's is cluttered with antique chairs and lace doilies, the walls taken over by German memorabilia and images of Bavarian castles.

If you're looking for something brighter than dark wood furniture or less kitschy than a pair of lederhosen tacked to the wall, try the outside patio. The furniture in the "biergarten" is cheap plastic, but the lovely street view and hanging greenery make it cozy. Plus, you'll avoid most of the soundtrack, which ranges from cheesy German pop to oom-pah instrumentals.

There's no shortage of wursts on the menu at Murphy's. I ordered the Sausage Sampler, which came with a German pork bratwurst and a Krakauer wurst (described as "Polish spicy Beef and Pork Sausage with a robust flavor and somewhat crunchy casing") served on a bed of sauerkraut.

Tip: cut the brat into slices before eating. My first bite of the brat exploded with juices which promptly squirted all over my new shirt. Oh, well. It was worth it. The brat was flavorful without being too spicy. I thought I detected black pepper and cinnamon, and possibly basil. Whatever the blend, it was a perfect compliment to the mild flavor of the pork. Combined with the strong sour flavor of the housemade kraut, the sausage was delicious. 

The Krakauer wurst was a spicy, hearty Polish-style sausage with a thinner skin. It was greasier than the brat, likely owing to the red meat content, but had a pungent flavor that really awakened my taste buds. Seems the Polish might have a leg up when it comes to sausage recipes, at least when comparing these two varieties.

In The Other Corner: Black Forest Mill German Restaurant
4900 E. Indian School Rd. in Phoenix

The brat was the wallflower in this group of wursts.
The brat was the wallflower in this group of wursts.

Like Tex-Mex restaurants that insist on hanging sombreros and serapes, apparently Bavarian restaurants just can't get away from the theme-y kitsch.

You won't find any lederhosen at Black Forest Mill, though the gals do wear traditional dirndl skirts and white bonnets. Instead, the restaurant focuses on the "mill" part of the name, with dark wood furniture, rustic rock accents, dim lighting and a wall-sized mural of a water mill. Images of running creeks and the German countryside are scattered around the various dining rooms. 

Inside the Mill.

​To get the closest comparison with Haus Murphy's, I ordered up Black Forest's Sausage Sampler. Not thirty seconds later, the platter arrived. Creepy. Turns out the kitchen had just made an extra sausage sampler, so our table got that one.

The dish boasted five different types of sausage including bratwurst, weisswurst and knockwurst; all of which were made fresh in the sausage shop next door. Each sausage was diced into little bite-sized chunks.    

The variety was great, but as I gobbled a bite of bratwurst I was a little disappointed. It was a little bland in comparison to Haus Murphy's version and to the other sausages on the plate. The poor little brat didn't stand a chance next to the hot dog-like knockwurst or the spicy Neuernberger.

"This one's not as greasy as Haus Murphy's, but it's also not as flavorful," remarked my dining companion. Well said. He also remarked on the lack of service. Though there were only four tables occupied during our visit and at least three servers on staff, we were barely noticed and it took forever to get the check. Anyway, back to the brat...

The sausage was supposedly soaked in beer overnight, but not much of the malt flavor remained. Perhaps they just didn't use a strong enough beer. Sometimes you have to use a really strong stout like Guinness (yes, I know it isn't German, but it works!) to get the right flavor infusion. 

The platter as a whole was savory and satisfying, but the beer brat and service were just run of the mill.

The Winner: Haus Murphy's  

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