Writing about restaurants is a little bit of a silly task. First of all, whether you’re facile with language or not, no amount of well-crafted prose can convey the flavor of a dish the way eating it would. And while the result of writing about a restaurant will always be a distant second, the process of deciding which ones to write positively about is even murkier. I don’t care what anyone says, it basically comes down to one person’s semi-random opinion. You may or may not agree with that person. But ultimately, it’s their impression of a restaurant that guides the review. There’s no objectivity. There’s no science. There’s hopefully honesty and fairness (whatever that means).
Restaurant reviewers get influenced by things. There’s no way not to be. Sometimes, I get influenced in advance by decor. It sets my expectations. Only because it’s usually an omen signalling what’s coming on my plate. Ethnic hole-in-the wall decor — we’ve got a shot at a great meal. Polished wood and marble found at a mall — we’re screwed. I try to entertain the possibility that the negative indicators could be wrong, and once-in-awhile they are. But more often than not… they’re a dead giveaway. Luckily, if the food’s good, I forget all about the decor no matter what the hell it looks like.
And when it comes to deciding how to rate a restaurant, I’ve eschewed stars or numbers or grades for a simple Love, Like, or Other. Love means that I adore the restaurant and go back at every opportunity. It’s special. If you’re visiting this town. Go to all the Loves. Like means, I can always have a very good meal here. I’d eat here in a pinch. Other means, well, other. But there’s still the matter of deciding what goes in what bucket. And ultimately, after seven years of doing this, it’s come down to one simple factor… do I remember the food and does it make me want to go back.
When it comes to Shultzy’s in the University District in Seattle, it looks like a great place for University of Washington students to eat sausages as an excuse to drink more beer. Nobody would blame Shultzy’s for limiting their aspirations to just that. The district is filled with little restaurants and ethnic eateries, but standouts are hard to find in my experience. Students like their food quick and cheap. Quick cheap food can be good. But the University District eateries typically aren’t anything special. Shultzy’s however, for some reason, has decided to make all their own sausages in house. And this, I suspect, is their secret weapon. The German Sausage Plate with Bratwurst on a bed of sauerkraut, with a buttery warm potato salad (I’d never had potato salad warm, and it was a soft pile of melty savory goodness), and a “big hot pretzel”. The pretzel may have pushed the quantity of food a little over the edge for me, but I just loved that it came with. And in fact, it was big and hot.
The non-sausage dishes we had were just ok — the Swiss Mushroom Steak and the BBQ Beef sandwiches. I suppose you could say that we got what we deserved ordering those in a place that’s focused on sausage. But one can always hope. And, the sweet potato fries were actually pretty good, with that sweet potato essence in a soft, thin cut, nicely salted fry. We decimated them. The sparkling lemonade was also a nice counterpoint — like homemade Sprite.
The real standout for me, the reason I go back to Shultzy’s, is The Shultzy. They describe it as “the Italian sausage burger that started it all”. I don’t know what “it all” is. And since I’m no journalist I couldn’t be bothered to read the historical notes in the menu that probably would have told me how taking sausage meat, and serving it caseless in the hamburger style is the innovation that brought Shultzy’s its (self-proclaimed) world-renowned reputation. But honestly, does it really matter? The bottom line is this. That Sausage Burger rocks. The meat is so nicely spiced, so juicy. Hamburgers often have a problem of being too big, too dry, or too flavorless. The sausage consistency filled with juiciness, and a bolder flavor than you’d find in your typical hamburger is really what I crave. The Shultzy delivers. I respect and appreciate that these folks make all their own sausages in house. And I hope to try all the varieties during my visits. But I have to tell you that ordering anything other than The Shultzy is difficult for me. I can’t get it out of mind, and I want to go back.
So next time you see some place that looks like just the run of the mill college restaurant where the food is just an excuse to deliver salt to your palate so you want to order more beer, consider that Shultzy’s delivers that salt in a delicious sausagey package. Who knows what other gems you may find when you ignore your instincts.