The Best of the Wurst
Oct 01, 2020 10:47AM
By Karey Solomon
Surrounded on three sides by fields of soybeans, this rural landscape, at 9632 New York State Route 96, in Trumansburg, is the perfect setting for Brews and Brats. Inside a building, unassuming from the outside, is a German-style restaurant featuring locally-brewed beverages and bratwurst made nearby from farm-raised meat. The parking lot on the eatery’s fourth side is filled with cars belonging to regular customers as well as some discovering it for the first time, judging by the number of out-of-state license plates. Big Band music at low volume offers a background to laughter and conversation.
“Hear that?” asks Randy Smith. Until he asks, the music is simply part of the atmosphere. “People love it. A friend said to me, ‘why do people go out?’ It’s for something they don’t have at home.”
Six years ago when Randy Smith and Linda Bancroft opened Wrap It Up Gifts, they focused on a unique range of artisanship. They also began thinking of adding an eatery.
The property, with a view so compelling each fall they named it Autumn View, had once been a restaurant. The gift shop took up only part of the space. They decided to add a small café serving sandwiches and breakfast items, but they were hoping for a full-service eatery in the adjoining space. After several attempts to interest other foodies in renting the space to open one, they decided in 2017 to open one themselves. Its success squeezed out the gift shop.
Randy had previously worked as a paramedic and was completing a degree in nursing when a long-awaited knee replacement went bad. He tried a second knee-replacement on that side; when it also failed, his leg was amputated. It ended his nursing career, but the optimistic Randy decided to put other talents to use. A gifted woodworker, he crafted the décor of the gift shop, created a lot of the merchandise, and ran the café. The café experience gave him the confidence to know he could tackle a larger restaurant project.
He applied for an alcohol license, started tasting beers and bratwursts, and stopped once he tasted those made in Romulus by Schrader Farms Meat Market, a processor of locally-raised meat. “Once I tasted those, I was totally hooked,” he says. These days, Schrader’s creates a line of bratwurst specifically for Randy. And yes, he’s considered brewing his own beer, too—but he’s not quite ready to start that project.
The bratwurst here are more-than-foot-long, savory sausages, way too large for a bun, and Randy says they come out of his radiant char-broilers bursting with flavor. Add some “currywurst” seasoning—a German tradition Randy learned to replicate—and a helping of Linda’s homemade German potato salad or “OMG Baked Beans,” and customers like Aaron Butler, from nearby Interlaken, and a group of area women enjoying a sisters’ luncheon keep coming back for more.
Aaron says he fell in love with German food on a trip to Germany in 2007. He’s enthusiastic about Beers and Brats, particularly about the juicy brat he’s enjoying at the moment. “There aren’t a lot of German food options around,” he says. “And if there were, I wouldn’t go to them. This is the best!”
Running a restaurant based on locally-sourced brews and foods means making a lot of food from scratch. For Linda and Randy, a typical day begins at 5 a.m. There are uncounted small details as well as large ones. Randy notes the restaurant easily goes through ten gallons of sauerkraut each week. Making sauerkraut has become his specialty, as the German potato salad from a family recipe and baked beans have become Linda’s. “Things are crazy-busy here,” Randy says. “From 2018 to 2019 our sales increased 148 percent.” And this year? Despite the challenges of 2020, “This year will blow that one out of the water.”
They maintain the grounds themselves—there’s room outside for 150 diners at well-spaced picnic tables and on the lawn. Randy built two outdoor stages (and one indoors), where local bands perform on Friday and Saturday evenings. The outdoor décor is as carefully built and curated as the indoor atmosphere of rural and lakeside ambiance. Mini telephone poles (also Randy-constructed), topped by vintage insulators he’s collected over the years, rim the property perimeter. His elaborate birdhouses are seen here and there; inside are small touches of craftsmanship, any direction you look.
As for the food, think holiday dinner for a large family with diverse individual tastes. “I enjoy having people come in here for homecooked food,” Linda says. “I love to cook and love to bake. It’s like Thanksgiving every day.” She recently retired from a thirty-one-year career in nursing, most recently as a dialysis nurse. “I thought I was working hard before,” she notes. “I’m working more now!” The food at Brews and Brats includes options for those who want something different from the fare promised by their name. Hungry visitors can get pulled pork, vegetarian options, chicken spiedies, gluten-free and alcohol-free beers, wines, and ciders. Randy is usually in the restaurant greeting guests, exchanging cheerful banter, welcoming back regulars. And the friendly theme of a family meal is emphasized in the bar’s “Buy a friend a beer” board. Customers can pre-pay for a beverage for a friend to enjoy on their next visit, and a sticky note goes on the board, waiting to be redeemed.
A wait-person strides through the restaurant, arms loaded with packaged brats. “These just came, will they be enough?”
“Maybe for today,” Randy says, adding tomorrow’s order to his mental to-do list.
A customer with a New York City accent tells him she’s here visiting her daughter, and found herself reminded of a once-favorite haunt in College Point. “We used to go every Sunday, a family outing,” she says nostalgically. “This is our first time here—we’ll be back.”
Another customer greets him. “How ya doin’, Randy?”
“Amazing, as always,” is his usual reply, accompanied by his thousand-watt smile. How can he describe his outlook as “amazing” when he’s not quite halfway through a sixteen-hour day? “It’s all in the attitude,” he says.
Learn more at brewsandbratsatautumnview.com or call (607) 241-8160.