Vegetarianism may be trendy and maybe even healthy, but when Jeff Rohatiner was looking for a product on which he could base a restaurant, he knew that most of us are carnivores at heart. So he figured there'd be a market for the wares at Jeff's Gourmet Kosher Sausage Factory, opened in late 1998 in the heart of Pico-Robertson.
There he and his staff grill up and serve succulent sausages that combine beef, chicken, turkey, lamb or veal with spices and, in a few varieties, ingredients like apple or cilantro. That's it: no fillers, all flavor.Rohatiner, 42, grew up in a "Conservadox" Los Angeles household. As a teen, he attended yeshiva and got involved in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox Union's youth organization. "I rebelled against my parents by becoming more Ortho-dox than they wanted me to be," Rohatiner told The Journal.
He studied in Jerusalem after high school but returned to the States to enroll at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, earning a degree in hotel management. In Vegas, he fell away from strict observance - "I'd say 'Kiddush' on Friday night and then go to the disco,"he said - but after a stint in the hotel business, he returned to Orthodoxy, spent more time in Israel, and cast about for a satisfying career.
Sausage-making, Rohatiner said, was a hobby, and his decision to turn that hobby into a full-time business was born of "a certain amount of frustration"; it isn't easy for an observant Jew to find specialty links. On the theory that he couldn't be the only Orthodox Jew in Los Angeles who likes to sink his teeth into something other than a plain beef dog, Jeff's was born.
The storefront is tiny, with most of the eating outdoors at tables scattered along the sidewalk. Inside, cool jazz and the aroma of grilled meat fill the air.
I took along my husband, Spencer, who spent a year in Europe as a college student and knows what's best in wurst. Together, we chomped our way through a couple of sausage sandwiches and samples of almost everything in the rotating assortment Rohatiner offers each day.
Turkey Italian, Polish, mergez (a combination of beef and lamb) and chicken cilantro sausages are always on the menu, along with plain beef hot dogs. Jeff's also serves burgers and deli meats in hot sandwiches. The cold cuts - turkey breast, pastrami, corned beef, roast beef and turkey pastrami - and all the sausages are made in the back of the store.
The short time from animal to grill was obvious in everything we sampled. Every mouthful of sausage, every sliver of deli was unbelievably fresh. The flavors of the meat were distinctive, the spices and other ingredients subtle grace notes. "Nothing's here longer than a week," Rohatiner said.
Spencer thought the sausages compared well to what he'd eaten in Germany. "He doesn't overload it with nitrates, so you get more of a feeling for the meat," he said, adding praise for the sauerkraut on his Russian sausage: "Not too crunchy, not too limp."
While the fresh taste of the Polish sausage I sampled made it unlike any kielbasa you can imagine, my favorites were the poultry-based sausages: the turkey Italian, the chicken cilantro, and, best of all, the smoked chicken apple. Other varieties offered include jalapeano, cajun chicken, hot sweet Italian, Moroccan chicken, and veal bratwurst.
Sandwiches come on terrific crusty rolls topped with veggies that vary with the sausage, such as peppers and onions with the Italian varieties or sauerkraut on the Polish and Russian dogs. Side salads include excellent cole slaw and a Mediterranean salad made with tahini.
The sausages are amazingly nongreasy, even the beef links that contain 20-30 percent fat. Sausages made with chicken or turkey run just 8-9 percent fat. Rohatiner said he's been getting requests for a meatless sausage and is working on lowering the fat content in the beef dogs to create "a line of guilt-free sausage."But don't wait. Jeff's is worth a detour for lunch or a stop on the way from work to take home his vacuum-packed sausages and sliced cold cuts. If you're a carnivore, you won't feel guilty - just happy.
Jeff's Gourmet Kosher Sausage, 8930 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 858-8590. Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Catering available.