Banger's does brats right, but it's the more adventurous menu items that really sing
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Aug. 2, 2013
Banger's may not be the newest or the hippest establishment on Rainey Street, but it certainly is one of the most fun, laid-back, and dog-friendly in the area. Going strong after recently hitting its first anniversary, Banger's is a welcome breath of fresh air among the übercool ethos that permeates some of the neighborhood's other spots. What may surprise the uninitiated is that despite the fact that Banger's is clearly a sausage restaurant, it offers some of the best food on Rainey, period, overshadowed only by the magnificent El Naranjo.
Owner Ben Siegel adapted everything he loved about traditional German biergartens and translated those elements into an Austin-infused ambience that appears to please everyone. The biergarten aesthetic is clear from the moment you arrive. On the huge patio, extra-large picnic tables invite communal seating under the trees, which are permanently decked with festive strings of lights. There's a covered stage that hosts a variety of seasonal entertainment, as well as a huge cinder block grill for special outdoor events like their popular pig roasts and Oktoberfest. To complete the "everyone's welcome" philosophy, there is a fenced-in section for doggies, complete with bowls and a large water cooler. The menu even offers special sausages for our canine friends.
Inside, the beer hall atmosphere continues with communal seating, blackboards announcing specials, and a bar with more than 100 taps of craft brews. Beers are classified on the menu by flavor profile and style, and the offerings include an excellent selection from Austin as well as the rest of Texas. The efficient and friendly servers are dressed in mock biergarten outfits – not quite lederhosen but shorts, white shirts, and vests seem to be the norm. Siegel also set out to create a menu that steps outside the boundaries of what we expect a sausage restaurant to be. Sure, there are classics like bratwurst with sauerkraut and bangers & mash, but the kitchen specializes in unexpected and creative dishes that challenge people's expectations of how sausage can be served.
The ample selection of house-made sausages includes traditional, exotic, and vegetarian choices that can be customized with three bun options (kolache, pumpernickel wheat, and pretzel) and a variety of toppings and sauces. There are also seasonally driven chef's specials, served either in a bun or as a plate with appropriate sides, all affordably priced and nicely presented, as well as a good selection of sides and appetizers. On a recent visit, one of my fellow diners proclaimed the Currywurst ($10) as the real deal while recalling his days curing hangovers with Berlin's street food. I quite enjoyed Dah Bulgogi ($8), chicken sausage topped with Sriracha, oyster sauce, cilantro, carrots, fiery jalapeños, and kimchi for a Korean twist on a bánh mì. It didn't really need the side of soy caramel, but this sweet-buttery-salty concoction was so sublime, I ate it by itself. From the entrée department, we chose the fried chicken ($10), plump chicken sausage wrapped in chicken skin, breaded, and deep-fried. That crisp creation came on a bed of skin-on mashers with a crumbly homemade biscuit which turned out to be a great vehicle for the soy caramel. The kitchen also redefines sausage with a cool selection of vegetarian options such as the Veggie BLT ($8), a crushed sun-dried tomato sausage infused with cheese curds, topped with shiitake mushroom "bacon," field greens, and onion aioli on a kolache bun.
Everything we've ever tasted at Banger's has been fresh and delicious. As a beer, sausage, and dog lover, I fully embrace this unique establishment and look forward to many more visits. Next time, I'll try to save some room for that house-made Snickers ice cream ($5) served in a jar.