If you've only ever had a Wisconsin-style bratwurst, it's time to change that.
Bratwurst is a kind of traditional German sausage where the meat is emulsified into a smooth texture before stuffing (other similar sausages include weisswurst and the frankfurter, the predecessor to our modern hot dog). Known for its smooth texture, its major charm, the sausage is usually complemented by an exterior casing crisped up by flash boiling or grilling.
At Mirabell, an old school German spot in Irving Park, they serve classics like the bratwurst—but they're doing things their own way, and have been for quite some time (A woman behind me remarked to her dining companions upon sitting down, "The menu looks a little different, but I haven't been here in 20 years.") Case in point: when you order the bratwurst, it comes not just boiled or grilled, but soaked in milk, dipped in egg, and fried in butter. And it's quietly the best traditional bratwurst I've ever eaten.
Mirabell is still a family owned restaurant; the son, Jeff, whose father passed away a few years ago, came by a few times to say hello and see how we liked the food.
It was his father who instigated the unusual, and unusually delicious, preparation of bratwurst, as well as the restaurant's high standards (all their meat used to come from the Fulton Market, and once, when they tried Sysco for a day as a test, the restaurant took a single look at the delivery and sent it back). Today, the family is keeping the traditions alive and following all the old recipes as much as possible. (They used to make their sausages in-house, but they've since turned to sourcing from the excellent Paulina Meat Market).
Sure, the preparation at Mirabell might seem like a lot of fuss for a bratwurst that's pretty darn good on the grill. But the result is special. It somehow makes the sausage—an all-veal brat—richer and more tender, while adding a marvelous buttery crunch to the outside. Next to a pile of sauerkraut and potatoes, it's a satisfying plate of food.
Old school restaurants can sometimes lead you down a path of mediocre and expensive food, and I'm sure it's possible to fall into that trap at Mirabell. But you really can't lose ordering sausage in a German restaurant. The portions are huge, the flavors are right, and the service is friendly. Just as it should be in Chicago.