Every job has its downside, and one of the unintended consequences of being a food writer is that if you write a rave review about a relatively unknown restaurant, the masses will descend upon it, potentially ruining a place (or at least making it impossibly busy). For instance, I'm a fan of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, and when he went to a restaurant in Rome to enjoy a classic pasta dish, he didn't name the restaurant for the sake of preserving it from the hordes of well-meaning tourists. I certainly don't pretend that my twice-monthly reviews have the clout of Bourdain. In fact, for the sake of my sanity, I prefer to pretend that I'm writing for a small group of friends rather than the entire readership of the Weekly, or to pretend that no one reads my articles at all. But the reality is that, for better or worse, publicity drives traffic.
The Sausage Shop Meat Market & Deli is nothing short of a carnivore's paradise. I'm originally from the Midwest, and the place looks like it was plucked out of a small town in Wisconsin or Minnesota in the '50s, and deposited unchanged into a small Tucson strip mall with terrible parking. There are more than 50 sandwiches on the menu, a good mix of both hot "sammies" and cold, and while you're waiting for them to assemble your oversized, messy, delicious creation, it's fun to peruse the wide variety of sausages, burgers, cured and smoked meats, cheese and other goodies in the fridge and freezer case.
All of the sandwiches at the Sausage Shop cost between $5 and $7 and come with a bag of chips—not that you'll have room for the chips if you eat the whole sandwich. There also is an array of house-made goodies, including kraut, slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad and several types of pickles. The most vexing part of both of my ventures to the small sandwich joint was deciding what to order.
Indoor seating is nonexistent, since the shop covers just a few hundred square feet, and outdoor seating is minimal, with a few creaky picnic and patio tables in the strip mall walkways. It's definitely a "to-go" type of joint, but I wouldn't recommend trying to eat any of the sandwiches we tried while driving—unless you're looking for a lapful of sandwich drippings. On weekdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., there's usually a long line out the door, so we timed our visits for Saturdays and off-hours to avoid the crunch. If it's at all possible, I strongly suggest that you do the same.
The sandwiches are incredible. The Rosco and Rufus (both $6.61) were like tiny testaments to the greatness of smoked meats. The Rosco was grilled, sliced corned beef piled on top of a Polish dog (halved lengthwise) and topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing, all on marble rye; the Rufus was of the same persuasion, except with pulled pork, a hot link sausage, cole slaw and barbecue sauce. Now, I'm quite sure it's unnecessary, and probably inadvisable, to have both a sausage AND a pile of slow-cooked meaty deliciousness stuffed between two pieces of beautifully nutty rye bread, but it's absolutely delicious. The few bites of bread-and-butter-style pickles, table pickles (also in slice/chip form) and German potato salad ($1.25 for each half-pint) that we managed to get in while downing the gluttonous sandwiches were really, really good. It's a good thing that my grandmother doesn't read this paper, because the pickles and potato salad at the Sausage Shop sure beat the hell out of hers.
Though the Rosco and Rufus were our clear favorites, the Old Pueblo Cheesesteak and the Blue Ox (also both $6.61) were nothing short of delightful. The cheesesteak is not what you'll find in Philly, but it's a good, solid, tasty sandwich with brisket, pepperjack cheese and soft, sweet grilled peppers and onions. If you're a cheesesteak purist, and you need Whiz and giardiniera, there are at least two respectable cheesesteak establishments in Tucson—go there. The Blue Ox is an unusual combo of brisket, barbecue sauce, blue cheese dressing and blue cheese crumbles. Don't order it on anything but a hoagie roll unless you've prepared yourself with a collection of wet wipes, and maybe a bib.
So, Tucson, I implore you to please visit the Sausage Shop Meat Market & Deli. Enjoy messy, tasty sandwiches. Buy delicious meats and sausages, take them home, and cook them—I took home several brat varieties to try out during NFL playoffs, including some with habaneros, some with blue cheese and green chiles, and some good ol' beer brats. But please tread lightly on this hidden Tucson gem. Let's leave it unchanged and unique.