The best of the wurst

The smoked bratwurst topped in kraut, brown mustard, red onions and sweet relish.

The smoked bratwurst topped in kraut, brown mustard, red onions and sweet relish.
Dec 24
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Let us be frank: Beer, brat and pretzel purveyor, Mr. Dunderbak’s, is the real deal.

Like some sort of boisterous, lovable German uncle come to visit after years away, sausage and pretzel purveyor Mr. Dunderbak’s made a triumphant return to North Little Rock’s McCain Mall a couple of weeks ago, and the buzz hasn’t seemed to die down at all.

Now, I confess, I was never indoctrinated into the original Mr. Dunderbak’s fan club, whose numbers are apparently legion. The place actually opened in the mall in the 1970s, but closed not long after the original owners, the Davidson family, decided to retire in the ‘90s. I lived in Benton then, and McCain just seemed so far away. Funny how central Arkansas feels smaller these days. The point is, I was never familiar with it.

Anyway, there’s nothing the Internet can’t fix, and Facebook particularly loves nothing more than a Good Cause (except maybe nostalgia; “Like” if you know what that is). So it was in 2009 that a page began to bring back the longtime upper level fixture. And the Davidsons had reportedly sort of been having the same thoughts for a while, too. And so the second incarnation began its inevitable rise to reality. Wunderbar!

That reality now resides at the bottom of the escalator in the food court. You’ll likely spot it by the lines queuing up out front where orders are placed and picked up. There are a few tables with bar-height seating out front, but also a cavernous, German market looking interior that goes way back and offers more seating, in comfy lounge-like arrangements or booths. That’s particularly helpful for larger parties.

It’s here that you’ll also notice Mr. Dunderbak’s seems to be about a lot more than just franks and pretzels. There’s a coffee bar for hot drinks, fresh beans and even a deli back there. And what would proper German grub be without a brewed beverage of some kind? Yes, there are bottled beers and single serving wine bottles back here, too. Wunderbar again!

As to the up-front business, the operation is divided into lines for pretzels and lines for sausages, though it seemed one could order pretzels from the sausage line. Done the other way round, I still had to go through the sausage line to actually pay. Staff said a new register system was on order, so that may mean this will change.

As to the menu itself, the choice for pretzels is pretty simple. The Bavarian style creations roll out fresh from an oven, and the choice is really what (if anything) to slather on them: cheddar cheese, port wine cheese or champagne cheese. There’s also mustard over by the brats.

Ah, the brats. The menu lists several options, almost all of them priced the same at $4.95. They are: bratwurst, smoked bratwurst, knackwurst, Weisswurst, Polish or Italian sausages and beer-soaked franks both regular and footlong. Some of those are also offered in vegetarian form. The choice of sausage is grilled right there at the counter. Each is served with sauerkraut (if desired) on a bun (with a gluten-free option from Dempsey Bakery) and it’s left to the buyer to choose toppings: relish, sweet relish, brown or yellow mustard and onions, fresh or caramelized.

It should also be noted that the deli at the back has some offerings of its own, including a sub, Reuben, build-your-own sandwich and Middle Eastern fare like gyros and falafel. Hummus is offered as a side. Here, too, veggie friendly options exist with a “meatball” sub, a club and a vegan turkey. Pickles, chips and German potato salad are offered as sides and desserts include cheesecake and baklava.

It sort of seems like a lot for a mall storefront, and it’s certainly more than you might think just from glancing at the place in a walk-by. Seriously, it’s cavernous inside. But then again, it shouldn’t be unexpected. The place had such a devoted following that it was called back out of retirement after more than a decade. It’s gotta be something wonderful, right?

THE DISH

Beer frank ($4.95)

This beer frank was not sauteed on a grill like the other sausages. No, it simmered in a crock pot of actual beer. The counter man said, “You want a footlong or a regular? They’re the same price,” which means the only correct answer here is “footlong.” He added a heap of the very fresh, piquant sauerkraut, and I dolloped my own caramelized red onions, sweet relish and dijon mustard, and ... you know how Southern grandpas often put cornbread in buttermilk and eat it like a smoothie? I wonder if we could combine a sliced frank, beer and toppings in a pint glass and go to town. It would be the perfect fair food. Like the walking taco, but we’d call it the “walking sausage.” Oh, that idea is the wurst, isn’t it? (mt)

Polish sausage ($4.95)

My preferred alternative to the hot dog these days (call me un-American), this sausage was fantastically grilled and packed with flavor. I don’t even know how you make such a standard ballpark kind of food stand out, but these guys obviously have got it right. I topped it in brown mustard without really thinking, which was fine, but I’d take yellow next time. It just seems to go better. I passed on kraut but did indulge in relish. And I’d do it again. Because, you know, it’s not hard to eat two before filling up. (sw)

Smoked bratwurst ($4.95)

So I didn’t go for a second Polish sausage, I went for a smoked brat. It’s funny how having them back to back you really pick up on different flavors. This one seemingly had less spice but a deeper flavor. I again went with brown mustard and would call that a winner. I took the sauerkraut this time, though, and added sweet relish and caramelized onions to boot. Pretty sure I wouldn’t do it any other way. I hesitate to ever make my own brats again, because they won’t be this good. (sw)

Vegetarian Italian bratwurst ($4.95)

I wasn’t expecting much from a vegetarian bratwurst, but this one was surprisingly good and unexpectedly flavorful. This brat honestly looked like it would be rubbery, but, the texture was kind of like a hot dog’s — except a little more smushy. It definitely tasted better than it looked and paired perfectly with mustard and sauerkraut. (ak)

IN A NUTSHELL

Mr. Dunderbak’s returns to McCain Mall with German fare like brats as well as pretzels smeared with decadent cheeses and separate areas selling bottled beers, coffee and cured meats and cheeses. The restaurant has a cavernous, German market looking interior that goes way back and offers more seating, in comfy lounge-like arrangements or booths.

Location: 3929 McCain Blvd., North Little Rock

Phone: (501) 753-4109

Web: N/A

Prices: $1.15 - $5.10

Hours: Same as the mall: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Alcohol: Beer, wine

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