Lynne wanted to try the veggie lasagna with its house-made whole-wheat pasta. I was surprised, but her instinct was right: In this carnivores' castle, it proved one of the best dishes, featuring layers of tender pasta, squashes, garlic, onions, carrots, red pepper, and queso fresco in an almost ethereal tomatillo sauce. (So it's Mexican, not Italian. No problema.) This was a paragon of vegetarian cuisine -- sweet, tangy, smooth, airy -- real comfort food that coasts angelically into your body and mind, offering satisfaction without satiety.
On the casual entrées side, the news is less uniformly favorable. But before we get into the sausages, I want to mention a probably excellent dish we didn't try: the "complete burger." It's made from grass-fed California-raised chuck that's ground in-house! Since the meat isn't being run through some slaughterhouse grinder with who-knows-what-else, nor traveling after it's ground, the risk of bacterial contamination is minimal. Hence, you can eat this burger as rare as you like. (I'd eat it raw, no worries. Bring on the tartare.) The burger comes with salty house-cured bacon made from America's best pork (Vande Rose's heritage Duroc hogs), plus Gouda, arugula, tomato, grilled onions, pineapple (huh?), and a free-range fried egg (optional).
The best sausage we tasted was the "superbison Mexi-dog," mixing free-range California-raised bison and Berkshire pork. It's moist and meaty and really captures the wild flavor of buffalo. It comes with house-cured bacon, pico de gallo salsa, smoked jalapeño aioli, house ketchup, and grilled onion on an artisan bun from Bread on Market. None of us could bear to wrap it in the bun -- too much fun to savor all the elements individually.
There are about five other sausages made daily from an ever-changing array. You can get one to three of these on a "picnic plate" or in a vaguely Alsatian-style choucroute (sauerkraut with white wine). Not being sauerkraut aficionados, we tried all five of the day's offerings on a pair of picnic plates. These come with Granny Smith apple and red-cabbage slaw and potato salad, both mildly pleasant, plus a couple of slabs of Gouda and a dipping sauce of nose-clearing, gooey honey-based house-made mustard.
It's been interesting to watch the Linkery develop its repertoire of sausages, but I've been mildly disappointed over time at the lack of consistent deliciousness. I'm an old friend of Bruce Aidells and watched (and tasted) with delight as his sausage-making business grew. He went from being a hippie with a converted fridge-smoker in his backyard into a national brand because he's a natural-born chef, with a powerful intuition about what will taste great. The Linkery's sausages are purer in some ways (they're all fresh, uncured, free of commercial sodium nitrates and nitrites), but -- alas -- nothing at the Linkery has ever equaled Cousin Brucie's least-spectacular sausage in flavor, although that bison dog is a powerful contender.
After chewing over the question for three years, I've concluded that the problem isn't the composition of the sausages but the technique used to cook them: All the sausages are poached before grilling. In contrast, when you buy a package of Aidells sausages from the grocery, you can do whatever you like with them -- grill 'em, skillet-cook 'em, griddle-cook them, or even boil them (aaagh!), like flaccid lunchtime wieners in a hospital cafeteria. At the Linkery, they've made one choice to fit all sausages, and I think it's the wrong choice.
Some sausages -- the porky mittel-European ones with thick skins and plenty of fat in their composition -- can withstand poaching, and may even improve from it. Others should never touch water -- it sucks the life out of them. These include fresh Italian sausages (like those at Pete's Meats); breakfast sausage (whether links or loaves); the delicate, thin-skinned boudin blanc from the southern region of Cajun country (Lafayette south to Houma); and fresh poultry sausages. Traditional cooks always cook these sausages in a greased skillet or on a griddle (sometimes finishing them off on a grill) -- and these folk have got folk wisdom on their side. Take the Aidells fresh chicken-apple sausage skillet-cooked for weekend brunches at the Farmhouse -- when you bite into one, it spills delicious sweet liquid into your mouth. Compare that with the much dryer-tasting chicken sausages here.
We tried two chicken-based sausages -- a chicken curry and a Thai. Couldn't tell which was which, as both were spicy but dry. One was marginally acceptable, the other fowl sawdust. The three pork sausages (all made with that fabulous Vande Rose pork from Iowa) weren't bad, but none was quite thrilling. It could also be that the restaurant is so dedicated to virtue in all aspects of its operation that it doesn't include quite enough pig fat (or alternative emollients) in the sausage mixtures.
The wine list offers fun and adventure. Ordering by the glass, Lynne, Jennifer, and I each enjoyed a crisp South African Le Bonheur Sauvignon Blanc, while Mary Jo savored a fine dry Sangria made from a decent red and seasonal fresh fruit. Sam enjoyed a semi-sweet Alsatian white (Pierre Sparr "Alsace One") and then an organic Dashe Zin, while I savored a crisp, dry Tavel Rosé for my second glass, finding it exactly as I remembered from Provence.
For the final round, Sam, a serious wine guy, brought an Oregon Pinot Noir from his own cellar. Under the circumstances (eight glasses of restaurant wine, including Lynne's first round at the bar before the rest of us arrived), the $20 corkage struck us as rigid and ungenerous. Many higher-end restaurants (J-Six, Better Half, Cavaillon, et al.) waive corkage if you buy their wines as well, and we'd bought the equivalent of two bottles. I asked Jay about this later, and it turns out that the restaurant's corkage policy has never really been defined. (See "About the Linkery," below.)
Time for dessert. We asked Travis what his favorite was. "Carrot cake," he said. Not meaning to joke, I said, "I've already been a hippie, eaten enough carrot cake for life." Neo-hippie Travis looked blank. The grilled pound cake with whipped cream and fresh raspberries seemed austere despite the garnishes. A special of grilled nectarines and vanilla ice cream with raspberries left us cold -- good ingredients, no unity. The coffees, French-press, are all virtuous; unfortunately, they no longer come from Caffé Calabria but from other local roasters. I asked Travis if any were dark roast. That would be the Costa Rican, he said. Dark it was, yes, but also thin and bitter. I added cream as though it were luncheonette coffee or instant. Meanwhile, Mary Jo was suffering with a cup of what she described as "dirty-tasting" Earl Grey tea.