Banger’s is a beer connoisseur’s joint. It’s a foodie’s special find. It’s also all Austin. It’s one of the newest Rainey Street residents in the gentrified downtown hot spot, and owner and founder Ben Siegel hopes its a reflection of the city he loves and the food he craves.
After opening at the end of July, Banger’s (79 and 81 Rainey St.) has steadily gained steam with the those who pride themselves on knowing the what’s what in the Austin culinary and craft beer scene. It’s home to the biggest sausage selection in Austin and houses over 100 taps of beer, gluten-free beverages and wines.
The state-of-the-art tap system is the largest in Austin and one of the most substantial in Texas. The bar was built around the cooler’s design and Ben’s desire to become one of the premier beer bars in the country.
Ben’s love of beer and sausage was cultivated while he was a student at the University of Texas and raised on Sixth Street. He says he routinely found himself at a local sausage cart late at night and wondered why there wasn’t a brick and mortar shop for that kind of fare. A few years later, Ben decided to make his idea a reality when he saw his concept take shape in a restaurant in Los Angeles. He recruited friends with whom to partner, came up with a plan, surrounded himself with creative, hardworking people and created Banger’s.
The menu strives to appeal to carnivores and vegetarians alike with multiple options of each. It’s a menu for someone who likes slow, palate-teasing heat; bold, savory meats; subtle vegetarian flavors; and a sense of humor. Where else will you get a sausage masquerading as fried chicken?
The Fried Chicken entreé is a dark-meat chicken sausage breaded and fried to a deep golden brown. You’d swear you were eating a chicken leg as you closed your eyes and savored its deliciousness, salty crunch and succulence. Seriously, this morsel of comfort is like a hug from a big-bosomed woman. It’s served on a bed of silky and perfectly seasoned braised greens with what Banger’s calls its Chef’s Momma’s biscuit, a delectable concoction of love and flour glazed with honey. Maybe she’s the one hugging the diner?
Other riffs on traditional entreés include the BBQ bacon and shrimp with white cheddar grits, and Boudin Blanc with red beans and rice. “If we can make it look like a sausage, then it’s a sausage,” Ben laughs.
The sausages are made almost entirely in-house by the Banger’s kitchen team every day and three different kinds of buns are delivered each morning. Diners have a choice between a light and chewy pretzel, a fluffy pumpernickel, or a softly sweet kolache bun. Sausages are served on a metal stand to keep the bun from getty soggy — a thoughtful touch — and diners can pick two toppings and two sauces. The plain bratwurst is the highest selling item on the menu, but Ben believes the Bangers and Mash sausage entreé is one that needs more attention. “It’s unbelievably delicious,” he says.
Menu concepts are a collaborative effort from the kitchen and in the coming weeks Banger’s will begin offering patrons Sausage Bowls, a sliced sausage served on a bed of shredded lettuce with all the accoutrements. Banger’s also currently features a daily executive lunch available from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, which includes any traditional or vegetarian sausage, one side and one pint of any Texas beer or root beer, all for just $8.
Lucky for some, the food menu is also almost entirely free of gluten — Ben is even searching for a gluten-free bun that’s up to Banger’s high standards — and the gluten-free tap and bottle options are extensive, including fruit-based hard ciders and meads.
Banger’s design is open and inviting. From the faux fire in the pot-bellied, black iron stove in the foyer to the silverware tied with kitchen twine, no detail has been left to chance. Briny pickles are served in mason jars and the bare light bulbs perched over the bar are anchored with fire-engine red metal bases.
It’s relaxing and has just a little bit of that Austin weird.
In the adjoining lot is a grove of pecan trees and under them seating for approximately 200 in front of a stage fashioned on the back porch of a small wooden building. There is a large enclosed dog run in the back.
The staff wear vests with their Cicerone certification pins on the lapel. The first level of cicerone certifications are required of all employees within a month of employment and is much like training for a sommelier. Certified Beer Server training guarantees that a staff member will be able to help any patron navigate the enormous beverage selection offered at Banger’s. “We focus on staff education,” Ben says. “The menu can go either way… I want people to come in and explore.”
A customer may try as many beers as he pleases. “I don’t believe that someone can’t find a beer they like here. [Beer] is so varied,” Ben says. Banger’s offers beer flights of four beers and encourages its regulars to keep trying something new on each visit.
Events are scheduled weekly and held in the outdoor area ranging from Oktoberfest to Comedy Night and Banger’s offers a private parking lot off of East Avenue east of Rainey Street. It costs $5 Thursday through Saturday. Menu prices range from $3.50 for a side to $9 for an entreé and alcoholic beverages run from $4.50 to $7.
Banger’s strives to be that intangible mix of Austin flair with an intense attention to detail and craftsmanship and it hits the mark. It’s the cool kid with the chunky glasses raising his glass to you with a cheeky grin. He’s here to stay, he says. Now Austinites have another spot of which to brag: Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden. Tell your friends.
Written by Jessica Warner
Photos by Clayton Hodges