A lovely loaf cradles the sausage sandwiches at Wild Goose Tavern. It's big and pillowy, thicker than the average hot-dog bun, and when you bite into the chewy, slightly yeasty roll, you realize you're eating real bread—something designed for this very purpose and with a substantial crust impermeable to liquids. This isn't the stuff you buy in bulk for Fourth of July, but rather a custom-crafted piece produced by Dean Kim at OC Baking Co. similar to those used to make proper Maine lobster rolls. The sausages wedged into them are also of enviable pedigree; some are said to have come from Mattern Sausage in Orange. But it's here, in this bar, that this bread and these sausages become one—and great.
I'm going to say this now, and it might sound a little premature since this is my first review of 2013, but I'm convinced I won't encounter better sausage sandwiches this year than these tubular titans. The so-called “Baked Italian” is actually baked. A circular slice of provolone blankets it, melted and fused over the gap, sealing it like a drum. Look at it from the top, and you'll think it a piece of lasagna rather than a sandwich. The toppings render the mildly sweet Italian link of Holmesian proportions invisible, buried under chunky marinara tangy of tomatoes, caramelized fennel and a shower of grated Parmesan. And when you bite, you make sure you have a napkin on your lap and one tucked into your collar because you know by looking at it the thing will surely spurt out juice and dribble sauce. I said it was great; I never said it wasn't going to be messy.
It's advisable to double up on the napkins for the “Chicken Mole” sausage. Garlic aioli is smeared; sugar-sweet, cubed-beet relish is spooned into the crevice of the bread; squirts of Sriracha are zigzagged all over, disregarding any boundaries; and the barely set yolk of a sunny-side-up quail egg is destined to burst. As you approach the thing, you try to determine whether it's better to knife-and-fork it. But this is a sandwich, after all, so you open your mouth wider than you thought possible to receive it. As you eat, the back of your throat burns from the latent spiciness of the sausage while your upper lip glistens with grease and throbs from direct contact with the Sriracha.
Among the other sausages, a wild boar goes the predictable Thai route, with the requisite peanut sauce you usually see reserved for satay, some lightly dressed shredded cabbage that's considered a slaw, and crispy wonton strips that you end up nibbling on later since most will inevitably fall off. A bratwurst tastes slightly sour either because of the mustard or the braised red cabbage and onions, or maybe both, but there's no other sandwich here that's more suited to be washed down with Guinness. But if there is one item that encapsulates what Wild Goose Tavern is trying to accomplish, it's the “Cajun Swamp,” which is, without a doubt, the messiest and hardest to eat, but also one of the most satisfying sausage sandwiches you can order—and not just because it's topped with sautéed shrimp. It's almost comical the way the U-shaped curl of the andouille arcs up like a whale breaching from its sea of smothering gumbo. With all that gravy, the bun now becomes one of those bread bowls overfilled with chowder.
There are burgers, of course, and two salads, one in which goat cheese and arugula dressed in a honey-and-miso dressing are made even sweeter with slices of yellow beets so candy-like they may as well be dessert. But it's rare that anyone orders it. In fact, after a certain time of night, when the place fills up, it's rare that anyone orders any food. Wild Goose Tavern is exactly that: a tavern. There are very few tables, and where one can sit down to commit to a dripping sandwich or a salad served on a plate as big as the bar counter is wide is a precious commodity. Most evenings, the people who come too late end up milling around, standing near the pool table underneath the mounted animal heads, nursing a beer or one of the surprisingly potent margaritas, waiting for something to open up or a pretty young thing to flirt with.
If these folks end up nibbling on anything, it's either the sweet-potato-and-goat-cheese tater tots, which look and taste a little like takoyaki, or the Cabanossi Slim Jims, which are better versions of the gas-station snack. Both are easy to eat while standing up. All they need now is that bread!
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.