Mattern Sausage and Meats: Tongue and Blood Sausage, Head Cheese survey-within-a-survey

Since my Tongue in OC survey has only covered cow tongue so far, I jumped at the chance to include another animal: pig. I’ve been anticipating this addition to my survey for some time, though I didn’t run across a non-cow tongue dish until I had a chance to go to Mattern while my mom was at the dentist’s.

My parents have been going to Mattern since before I was born, and while we’re not exactly regulars anymore, we still stop in whenever we’re in the area. Their garlic bologna was one of the first solid foods I ate as an infant nearly 20 years ago–there’s hardly a better food than that for babies. As I developed my own tastes over the years, I settled on the bockwurst, a white veal sausage, as my personal favorite, but you really can’t miss at Mattern. Everything is delicious.

Head cheese, as it is composed of the flesh of the head, obviously includes the tongue. Mattern has 3 kinds of head cheese, all pork based: regular, with vinegar, and spicy. In all three, the pieces of meat–tongue, cheek, etc.–are suspended in the translucent aspic like a freeform mosaic, but the texture varies among the varieties. The regular head cheese is the most cartilaginous in texture, almost chewy, even, and it’s pretty mellow in flavor. The vinegar one is slightly more tender, and the aspic is more opaque with a yellowish tint to it. The vinegar flavor itself is a nice counterbalance to the soft richness of the rest of the head cheese. Finally, the spicy head cheese has various spices and an intense red color. Despite the name, I wouldn’t call this actually “spicy,” but the spices, like the vinegar, work well in the sausage overall.

In addition to the head cheeses, I also tried the blood and tongue sausage. This too is made with pork tongue, set in a beautiful red blood sausage. Here, one can distinctly taste the pork tongue. It has a richness similar to beef tongue, but less iron-y tang. Still, I love it.

Clockwise from top left:  regular, with vinegar, spicy, blood and tongue.

Clockwise from top left: regular, with vinegar, spicy, blood and tongue.

For the eating part of this post, I simply buttered some rye bread and layered on a couple of slices of each sausage.

It was a nice snack.

It was a nice snack.

Gyutan Tsukasa

I’ve been going to the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa since I was a very small child (well, more like taken there most of those times). I can recall at least two renovations and various changes in the restaurant lineup―I do quite miss the big Zen rock gardens from my childhood―but it’s always remained a fun place to eat and shop. Gyutan Tsukasa is the most recent addition to the food court, taking over a spot that seems to change a bit more often than the others, but I have high hopes for it.

Gyutan is Japanese for beef tongue (it literally translates to “cow tongue”), and Tsukasa means something along the lines of “chief” or “government official.” The rest of the name on their sign roughly means “grilled specialty store.”

So a place that specializes in grilled beef tongue. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

The menu at the Costa Mesa location is more limited than the regular menu at their locations in Japan, but there were several items labeled coming soon, and I imagine the menu will further expand over time.

I needed something fast and portable so I opted for the lunchbox. I loved it! Just tongue, mixed grain rice, and two types of pickles. They do have pre-made ones if you’re really in a hurry, but I had time to wait for a hot one. The preparation is simple, but its origins are anything but, the tongue coming all the way from Australia and grilled over Japanese charcoal. The grilling method obviously yields a chewier result than, say, lengua, and the char flavor is a great complement to the rich and tangy tongue. The portions of each component were all well balanced―I didn’t find myself with lots of rice left over after everything else was gone―and I liked that there were both spicy and just pickle-y pickles.

I like a nicely assembled lunchbox.

Also, here’s the Yelp page for this location, as the official site doesn’t seem to have anything about this new US location.

Break of Dawn: Kangaroo Sausage

After quite a long time of hearing about Break of Dawn and having friends highly recommend it to us, we finally tried it! We loved it, of course.

Now I’m always the first to come to Orange County’s defense when someone starts calling it a “culinary wasteland” or “land of chain restaurants” (those are both actual insults I’ve heard), but even I was surprised that a restaurant of this caliber is nestled in the quiet, slightly rundown Laguna Hills Mall. We met friends for a birthday brunch, and as soon as we sat down, we were off. The attentive waiters immediately took orders for starters and drinks (see Break of Dawn Part II).

Interestingly, this was one of the few times I had difficulty deciding what to get. Everything sounded, and looked, as I could see on surrounding tables, great. But a closer reading of the menu turned up a surprise. Beef tongue!

The name of the dish may not shed much light on its actual form, but I sprung at the not-so-common chance to eat one of my favorite meats in a non-Mexican setting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very pleased with what was set before me: a stew! Yes, a stew for breakfast. I can honestly say I had never thought of that, and I have had some unique things to break my fast. I’m probably more surprised than I should be, to which I can only say “I am as god made me.”

Upon eating, I was even more surprised to find flavor the likes of which I hardly ever find outside of my house and my mom’s cooking. The dish obviously had much thought put into its construction and preparation. Everything had its place. The beans, the two proteins, the romano cheese, and even the egg all played in the orchestra that was playing the symphony of flavors in this dish, conducted by Chef Dee Nguyen.

Cajun baked beans, beef tongue, fava, bourbon, romano.

Cajun baked beans, beef tongue, fava, bourbon, romano. The crust (I use that term with love) of rustic bread was a nice touch too.

Taqueria Guadalupana: Torta Lengua

Taqueria Guadalupana is my all time favorite Mexican place, and consistently in my top 5 restaurants of all time. This is the place where I first had lengua many years ago, in torta form, and I haven’t gotten anything else there since. While the lengua is, of course, the star for me, the thing that really elevates this torta is the whole avocado that is simply scooped out of the skin and smashed onto the bread. Taqueria Guadalupana’s lengua is very simply prepared—I don’t taste much of anything other than proper seasoning—so the richness and tang of the tongue really shine.

Torta also with a capital T. Also described by me as "Only the best sandwich ever." Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Torta also with a capital T. Further described by me as “Only the best sandwich ever.” Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

I’ve had trouble finding it in the past, so here’s the Yelp page with the address, map, etc.

This concludes the planned Mexican portion of my tongue survey, unless I somehow happen upon a new place in the next two hours before I go to class.

El Toro Carniceria: Taco Lengua

El Toro Carniceria of Santa Ana is a very well-known spot at 1st Street and Bristol, a stone’s throw from the hip Arts District. It’s actually a two-part affair, composed of the main store and the smaller prepared food annex. The main store is very useful in its own right, but the tacos, among many other things, come from the prepared-food annex. The annex isn’t tiny, but it fills up fast. El Toro’s lengua has pleasant aromatic notes of cilantro and onion, and, like all their meats, is always cut up to order and steaming hot. Like any taqueria, you can of course get any meat in any form, and everyone has their favorite dish with their favorite meat. The star of any taco from El Toro is definitely the meat, although every component has its place in the dish. Usually, I go for a torta, but the first time I went to El Toro Carniceria, I saw some tacos being made for another customer, but it was how they make their tacos that really appetized me. For a taco lengua, the person behind the counter simply grabs a handful of lengua, kept in large pieces in the case, runs a cleaver through it a couple of times, and scoops it into double-layered house-made corn tortillas. A generous pinch of onion and cilantro finishes the simple, delicious, and massive taco. There are a variety of great salsas available, but for me that just detracts from the simple perfection of the meat, tortillas, onion, and cilantro.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Tacos Ensenada: Wet Burrito Lengua

I have no idea how I did not about Tacos Ensenada before a couple of months ago. I had always thought the area around El Toro and the 5 was something of an culinary wasteland – Guitar Center and Smart & Final were always the main reasons to venture to the area. To illustrate just how bleak my perception of the area was, I can say that I was genuinely happy when Lee’s Sandwiches opened there! Tacos Ensenada is somewhat hidden from view off Raymond, a small side street, in one of the many subdivided shopping centers running along each side of that stretch of El Toro. I don’t usually get wet burritos, but the first time I went there, the person taking our order offered the wet option. Without really thinking, I said yes, and chose green sauce over red. Going to a new place always spurs me to try something new, and it turned out I had no idea what I was missing. The burrito is massive, wet or not, and filled simply with meat, rice, and beans. Wet, it comes covered in melted, not to mention activated, cheese and your chosen sauce. Silverware is, of course, needed.

I did say it was big.

I did say it was big.

El Fenix: Burrito Lengua

El Fenix was a godsend when it first opened in little ol’ RSM, but thanks to the city’s weird (or possibly nonexistent) zoning logic, it was slotted in just two doors to the left of a well established Mexican restaurant. Fortunately, El Fenix distinguishes itself from its neighbor not only with far superior food, but with a very useful market, the opening of which spawned my family’s Taco Friday tradition. The Reuben’s Tortilleria tortillas delivered daily, hot off the shelf, their wonderful salsas, and great prepared and pre-marinated meats make every Taco Friday an excellent Taco Friday.

El Fenix’s lengua is a lengua verde—nice chunks of tongue in a slightly spicy green sauce, with the tongue’s richness complementing it nicely. It adds a wonderful saucy element to whatever you use it in. Pictured: burrito lengua with rice, beans, serrano salsa, and guacamole.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it's dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it’s dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

It went very well with Cismontane Brewing Company’s Coulter IPA and Citizen California Common.