“My dears, everything we make is charcoaled except the BLTs and the egg salad,” a waitress informs us when we ask about the specialties at the Charcoal Inn, a luncheonette on the south side of Sheboygan (with another location at 1637 Geele Ave.). She points to a grill behind the counter where flames are licking up above the grate, and where sputtering Sheboygan brats are sending their pork-sausage sweetness into the air. (Brat, short for bratwurst, rhymes with hot.)
She suggests a double brat with the works. “People in Sheboygan like everything they eat with pickle, mustard, and onions, and butter oozing out on every side,” she informed us. Some brat enthusiasts add ketchup to the mix or delete the pickles or choose fried onions over raw ones, but every Sheboygan hot meat sandwich – brat, burger, or butterflied pork chop – drips butter.
A double brat comes wrapped in wax paper, which you unfold and use as a dropcloth to catch dripping condiments. Each of the two brats inside the Sheboygan-style roll has been slit and flattened before getting grilled, which makes for an easily stacked sandwich. These brats are deeply perfumed with spices that burst into blossom when they sizzle over a smoky charcoal fire. Thick and resilient but thoroughly tooth-tender, they are as opulent as sausage can be, oozing a delectable blend of meat juice and pure melted butter.
For dessert after a brat, Sheboyganites eat tortes. Tortes are the best way to get the maximum amount of cream flavor into a single piece of food. A lemonade torte is a square about four by four inches wide and two inches high. It is white and smooth, sitting on a pallet of Graham cracker crumbs, and there are other sweet crumbs on top, too. A thick band of faintly lemon-flavored torte has tremendous gravity, as if a pint of cream had been reduced, thickened, and sweetened. It is similar in texture to a cheese cake, but it is so pure and rich you want to call it cream cake.