Story by Dave Eckert
Well, it’s pumpkin spice everything time, Oktoberfest beers, and my personal favorite, all ilk of sausages hot off the grill. This month, I explore all things sausage in Kansas City, starting with what I have dubbed, “The Old Guard.”
Owned and operated in Kansas City, Kansas in the historic Strawberry Hill neighborhood since 1939, Krizman’s Sausage is the oldest of KC’s old guard sausage shops. It was started by Joseph Krizman, Sr. a Croatian refugee who sought a new life in America at the start of World War I in 1914. “His parents didn’t want him to experience the ravages of war, so they gave him $50 and sent him off to America. He got a job in the packing houses, where, because of his knowledge of farms and animals from his youth, he started making sausages. After some time, his brother-in-law, Matt Grisnik, approached him with an opportunity to make his sausage for a family run grocery store in Strawberry Hill. That was the start of Krizman’s Sausage,” Joseph Krizman III, who goes by Joe, told me.
Joe Krizman is Joseph Krizman, Sr.’s grandson and the current owner of Krizman’s Sausage. The business continued to grow, but the biggest growth at Krizman’s has come during Joe Krizman’s 37-year tenure. “Our business is now 85-90-percent wholesale, and from just a handful of sausages at the beginning, Krizman’s now offers about 25 different varieties.”
The stalwart of the Krizman lineup remains Joseph Krizman, Sr.’s smoked polish sausage, which, using his original recipe, is still the number one seller at the retail counter. So, what does the future hold? Krizman says hopefully another generation at the helm. “I have three daughters who don’t seem to be interested in running the business. But I also have three sons, so I’m hoping one or two of them might take over. I want to do for them what my dad did for me – offer me an opportunity, but also a choice,” Krizman shared. When it comes to sausages, Krizman’s is always a good choice.
Werner’s Fine Sausages has been a fixture on Johnson Drive in Mission, Kansas since 1973. Werner Wohlert is the Werner behind the sausages. Wohlert retired in 1995 and passed away in 2016, but the name and tradition continue under new stewardship with owners Dave and Judy Miller. Rachel Cochran is Werner’s General Manager, a 27-year employee, and a most enthusiastic brand ambassador. “Werner originally worked at a sausage shop called Swanson’s on Westport Road, which was started in 1898. In the 60’s, Werner worked for Swanson’s, which offered Swedish-style sausages and products. He bought the business from them and moved the shop here in 1973, focusing more on German sausages, but still offering Swedish favorites like lutefisk and Swedish potato sausage,” Cochran told me.
When the Miller’s first bought the business, Werner’s made just four sausages. Today, they offer 19! Werner’s is much beloved in the neighborhood as much for their delicious sausages as for their community involvement. “Every Saturday, we grill up sausages out in front of the store, which we’ve been doing for 30 years,” Cochran shared. I only wish I lived closer!
The Fantasma family has been a fixture on the butcher scene in Kansas City since 1995. That’s when Mario and Teresa purchased Paradise Locker Meats in the tiny town of Paradise, Missouri, started a retail side of the business and began processing ten cows and ten hogs a week. Fire destroyed the plant in 2002, but the Fantasmas found land in the nearby town of Trimble where they opened the new, and much bigger plant. Up to 50 employees now, and 400 local animals a week, the Fantasma’s business has grown exponentially while remaining true to its mantra of only the finest ingredients and the proper treatment of their animals.
As for sausages, like the others before them, Paradise offers a wide selection of classic and specialty sausages. At the core, though are two-a smoked kielbasa and an Italian. “Our first dive into sausages decades ago stayed true to our family’s roots, which are Northeast Italian and Southern Slovenia,” Lou and Nick Fantasma told me. “Grandma spent about six months on the phone with her sister in Slovenia to nail down the kielbasa recipe. The Italian sausage is a bit of a departure from the traditional Italian sausage. We use ground fennel, not whole fennel, and imported Romano cheese, with ground fresh spices, which gives us a lovely flavor and texture.”
Whether you go with one of the classics, or venture into the specialty sausages (habanero-mango brat, anyone?), you are guaranteed one thing-the Fantasma’s dedication and passion, and that’s a great place to start!
The NEW(er) KIDS ON THE BLOCK
As my sausage saga continues, I’ll dip my toe into the waters of some of the newer producers in the metro with The Uppercut KC and The Italian Sausage Company.
Kinkade considers herself a farmer first. She says a big part of her mission is to help feed the community in a better and more sustainable way. Her focus is on quality, and that starts and ends with the type of cattle she specializes in-Akaushi, a specific breed of the broader category of Wagyu. “We are one of only a few ranches in the Midwest that raise and sell Akaushi, a prime Japanese Breed. They have incredible marbling and flavor,” Kinkade shared.
From her Akaushi cattle, Kinkade offers some of the best steaks, roasts, and other cuts in the metro. She also provides a head-spinning variety of brats, sausages, jerkies, burgers, and perhaps the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten. Kinkade says it starts and ends with quality. “Our all-beef hot dogs won The Best in Kansas City. We just make the one hot dog. We have 12 different brat flavors, with ten in our core and two specialty brats each week,” Kinkade told me. Kinkade then proceeded to list off the 12 brats currently being sold at Uppercut KC, which was impressive, but not as impressive as the flavors themselves, which you have to see and taste to believe. “So, we have those ten, but then we make a different chicken sausage and one or two pork sausages every week.” It’s hard for me to pick, but I’m especially fond of the bacon-gouda, and the Philly cheesesteak. I would advise you, however, to buy and try for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
I asked Kinkade what makes a good sausage. I was not surprised by her answer. “It starts with great meat, 100-percent. It’s awfully hard to doctor something that doesn’t start out very well. I think fat content is also huge in sausage, and the grind has to be right,” Kinkade stated. “It’s also a lot of trial and error, figuring out what goes together. I’ve had some ideas that I thought were going to be amazing, and they were not. But I’ve had others that were spot on.” On a personal note, I had Uppercut make me a batch of roasted Hatch Chile-mozzarella brats, from an Idea I had, and they are fantastic!
The Uppercut KC-check it out for sausage, steaks, and so much more. It’s worth the trip to Liberty no matter where you are in the metro!
Photo credit: PILSON PHOTO CO-OP
It’s hard to call a family that’s been making Italian sausage for over 30-years, “A New Kid On The Block,” but Michelle and Joe Brancato’s Italian Sausage Company on North Oak Trafficway, hasn’t been around that long, so I say they qualify. One thing’s for sure, their sausages certainly do! They are, in a word, amazing!
“Our premium grade butcher cut meat has given us the nickname of the ‘filet mignon’ of Italian sausage. Quality is something we will never compromise. One bite will overwhelm your pallet with flavor and nostalgia and take you straight back to the old country. We pride ourselves on our fresh, weekly, handmade Italian Sausage. The Italian Sausage is made by owner Joe Brancato, Jr., a third-generation family sausage maker, continuing the tradition of his father, Joe Brancato, Sr., and his grandfather, Sam Brancato,” Michelle Brancato shared.
The Italian Sausage Company offers three core varieties of pork-based sausage: Hot, which is flavor-forward with a kick of heat to follow, Mild, which speaks for itself, and Peppers and Onions, which is the mild sausage with finely minced peppers and onion all in the casing. But wait, there’s more! “In addition to his father and grandfather’s recipes, Joe, Jr. has created his own show-stopping chicken-based creations. There is the first ever Chicken Spiedini Sausage, embodying all the flavors of the traditional Sicilian Chicken Spiedini dish- citrus, garlic, and Italian herbs, all in a sausage. And he’s crafted a Tuscan Romano Sausage that showcases Tuscan herbs, roasted garlic, and Romano cheese,” Brancato said.
All of the ISC’s sausages are gluten, egg, fish, shellfish, nut, peanut, soybean, and wheat-free with no artificial ingredients, fillers, sodium nitrates, MSG, or preservatives. Brancato says the sausages sell out weekly, so it’s impossible to pick a favorite among customers. You’ve been warned.