When you think of sausage, you probably think of pork or beef. Maybe veal. You may think of mild breakfast links or Italian spirals flecked with fennel, of places like Germany or Chicago, maybe even of spicy merguez or black blood sausage.
The average human likely doesn’t think of rattlesnake sausage, but that’s what’s being stuffed these days at Brat Haus in Old Town.
Yes, rattlesnake sausage. Objectively, this isn’t that strange. A snake is an animal that eats, sleeps, feels, and lives in the dirt just like a pig. Further, we live in the desert, a natural habitat of the rattlesnake. The only pigs we have wild here are javellina, and from a zoological standpoint these shaggy beasts aren’t even pigs. You could make an argument that eating snake is more suited to where we are, that eating pig, an animal often raised afar, is the true weirdo move.
However you view things, a strange twinge arrives with the sausage, lined with avocado half-moons and dusted with cotija cheese. Inside the casing, rattlesnake is mixed with rabbit meat. Because rattlesnake can cost more than $80 a pound, the chef cuts in some python. He also cuts in pork. Snake is lean; the goodness of sausage depends in part on fat-to-lean ratio.
The new chef at Brat Haus is Jeffrey Schoening. Schoening has cooked at Phoenix staples like St. Francis and Beckett’s Table. After moving to Seattle for a time, he returned to the Valley in August to helm 5-year-old Brat Haus. Schoening changed almost every dish on the menu, tweaking some, gutting others, and adding many of his own. Launched at the end of 2017, the new menu reads more 21st-century gastropub than German-leaning restaurant. Schoening makes poutine with green chile, nachos on a base of chicharrones rather than chips. He cooks shrimp sous vide for a New England-style seafood roll.
He kept some of the old menu's more classic sausages. He also added his own.
“It’s halfway of a lost art,” Schoening says of making sausage. “There’s no smoke and mirrors. It’s just meat in a tube.” He makes all of Brat Haus's speciality sausages on-site, including the rattlesnake and rabbit.
The rattlesnake sausage comes in a bun on a tray. Three pickle coins sit on brown paper beside the link, paper inked with a pig graphic and the chilling word “rattle.” Right in there with the avocado and cotija lies salsa made from cactus and corn. Schoening says his toppings complement the sausage and bun, which all together form a single unit. Toppings are meant to replace standard condiments.
It’s an enjoyable sausage, one with fresh flavors nicely suited to sipping a beer in the sun. The dominant flavor is cactus salsa, cool and more vegetal than your typical salsa. Smidgens of the funkier rattlesnake flavor flash through at times. It’s what you imagine a reptile will taste like, mild like chicken and a bit like catfish but with a slight game quotient that eludes comparison.
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Schoening’s specialty sausages tend to ditch tradition. He stuffs a wild boar link, a cheddar-jalapeno link, and another with lamb and goat. The lamb and goat sausage also contains, stuffed into the casing with the meat, yellow curry and bajan, a Caribbean hot sauce. Crowned with habanero jam, caramelized onion, and cilantro, the link explodes with juice and unusual flavor for meat in a tube.
Making sausage that channels Jamaican curry isn't what you'd expect from a beer garden. And a beer garden that makes this sausage well is even more surprising. When we’re talking curry sausage and wild boar links and rattlesnake anything, we’re far from the sleepy land of brauts and weisswurst. Spotting snake and unlikely global flavors on a menu can be a good thing.
Brat Haus. 3622 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale; 480-947-4006.
Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.