By Frank Sabatini Jr.
I usually hold up a couple of months on new restaurants wading through their dress rehearsals before going in with a notebook. But in the case of S&M Sausage and Meat, which restaurateur Scott Slater opened on Nov. 5, my inner carnivore couldn’t wait another day.
The provocatively named, artistically designed “meatery” is Slater’s first splinter project since establishing the burger and bacon-centric Slater’s 50/50 in several locations around Southern California, including those in Liberty Station and San Marcos.
At S&M, indulgences of the flesh take daring leaps far beyond the half-beef, half-bacon burgers made famous at Slater’s. Here, flavored bacon strips and craft sausages advance into what some will consider perverse territory: rabbit poutine, pig ears and beaver tacos.
Regarding the latter, a sellout occurred in their initial introduction prior to my venture there.
“Maybe next time, maybe never,” I said to my companion about the beaver as other exotic meats such as kangaroo, alligator and antelope came into focus on the sausage list.
Nearly the entire bill of fare is novel, although not every menu item is so eccentrically audacious. Bacon-fat deviled eggs with wasabi aioli, for instance, were decadent yet pedestrian compared to wolfing down dam builders and marsupials. The “pork wings” are mini bone-in shanks that derive their titillating sweetness from root beer and balsamic glaze, a tame adventure that doesn’t disappoint.
In addition, the menu offers vegetarians a few warm spots with vegan “mushroom ears” and faux Italian sausage links made with northern white beans, shiitake mushrooms and onions. More curious is the zany “coconut not mac n’ cheese” constructed with spaetzel, coconut and broccolini.
Sweet and savory bacon strips are sold in pairs for $3. There are currently eight different flavors, with more in the pipeline. Current options include sesame-soy, honey-Sriracha, brown sugar and more.
“Now that bacon isn’t looked at as just breakfast food, there’s so much you can do with it,” Slater said. “S&M is our arena to use it creatively.”
We loved the garlic-rosemary strips dusted with Parmesan cheese, although we didn’t care much for the ones coated thickly in white chocolate and cashews. The chocolate and hickory cure of the bacon didn’t marry in our opinion.
But the blueberries, bacon and Brussels sprouts comprising the BBB salad very much did. If you normally eschew those little orbs of cabbage, you’ll be surprised at how easily they go down in this original presentation, which also includes a touch of feta cheese and mustard vinaigrette.
Assorted sausages can be ordered on fresh buns with house-made toppings or on boards with mustard and accouterments. Most of them hail from Masterlink in Orange County, although by January, many will be made in-house by S&M Chef Mark Younggren, formerly of The Linkery.
My companion’s Portuguese-pineapple link topped with tzatziki and roasted red peppers was plump, juicy and delicious. You could say that the fruit took the role of masochist, allowing the spiced beef-and-pork blend to pleasurably dominate.
I chose the corned beef sausage slathered with a topping that combines brown sugar, bacon and sauerkraut. My only regret is that I didn’t request a smear of mustard underneath to compliment the sweetness. But the link was tender, avoiding the ropey texture of corned beef due to its fine grind. It pretty much tasted like Polish kielbasa with a hint of pickling spices.
Other sausage options include veal bratwurst, Wagyu beef, Mexican chorizo and whiskey-fennel. Or from the “big bites” list, entrees such as venison lasagna, jerk ribs and butter-infused Cornish game hens also give hardcore meat eaters something to shout about.
S&M’s interior is bright and welcoming. Visitors are greeted by a sausage-stocked deli case, various market provisions, a full cocktail bar and vivid “Nic Cage art,” incorporating quirky art plates that include an image of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.
The service concept is both unusual and convenient. Patrons place their orders at the front counter before they’re given a set of flip cards on a metal stem. The “service” card signals that you want to order more food; the “scram” card cues the staff to stay away while the “check” card shows you’re ready to pay for this ambitious culinary adventure that has rightfully become the talk of the town.
—Contact Frank Sabatini Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.