Bratwurst is an American staple when it comes to cookouts and pregame tailgates, yet restaurants that serve brats exclusively seem almost unheard of. At least they were until Bangers & Brews came to Eugene.
Bangers & Brews Eugene is a locally owned restaurant that recently opened a second location near the University of Oregon campus — but its roots stem from Bend, where the first-ever Bangers & Brews was established. Seen by the owner as a center for community, the restaurant has distinguished itself by serving good food, rare meats and local beers.
Founded in 2019, Bangers & Brews is a great place for brats and beer — in other words, game day food. But Duck football isn’t their biggest event, says owner Darren Bollinger. The real rush comes after sports games at Sheldon High School right across the street. It’s a perfect embodiment of Bangers & Brews.
Bollinger and his fiancée, Josie Smets, were software engineers in Eugene for years until Symantec software sales closed its Eugene office. Smets’ new job took the couple to Bend, but the career they found was a far cry from software engineering.
The original Bangers & Brews location was founded in 2016 in Bend by Marcelo Garcia and his father, Ruben.
While living in Bend, Smets found Bangers & Brews on Yelp; the restaurant was No. 24 on Yelp’s top places to eat in the U.S. in 2017. It was during their first time visiting the restaurant that Bollinger got to meet Ruben and his son.
“First time I walked in there, that’s who I met,” Bollinger says. “He gave me a kiss on the cheek and we talked for half an hour. Then I met his son and we became really good friends.”
After getting a chance to help out behind the scenes, Bollinger and Smets made the move back to Eugene to be closer to family. That’s when Bollinger asked Garcia if he could start Bangers & Brews in Eugene.
It seems like quite the jump, software engineer to restaurateur. Before his time helping out the Garcia family, Bollinger had no experience with restaurants, but he says what really drew him to the restaurant was the sense of community he found. It seems to run in the Bangers & Brews family.
Aside from wondering how two software engineers become restaurant owners in two years’ time, the next question has to be, “Why brats?” According to Bollinger, brats are a one-of-a-kind dish. “It’s just unique, it’s completely different,” Bollinger says. “Everyone likes brats… but we take it from a normal bratwurst all the way to alligator and reindeer.”
As you might expect, sausages (aka “bangers”) and beer are the go-tos, but as Bollinger suggests that doesn’t quite capture it.
Bangers & Brews serves a variety of bratwurst from classics, like its namesake British banger, to a rotating list of exotic brats like alligator andouille, Alaskan reindeer and or wild boar with garlic, keeping with the theme established by the original restaurant in Bend. This writer can attest to the tasty venison/rabbit with bacon and cranberries.
Bangers & Brews has also earned a reputation for its chimichurri, adhering to the Garcia family recipe. Chimichurri is an Argentinian staple made from oregano, parsley, garlic and olive oil. The sauce is an example of how the Garcia family’s Argentinian roots contribute to Bangers & Brews.
Bollinger says the chimichurri recipe is still closely guarded, and the only people at the Eugene location who know the recipe besides him are Smets and their number two in charge, chef Luis “Lalo” Rubini. The sauce can stand on its own — a cup of chimichurri and some bread is a simple starter. Another well-known starter is the fries with bacon, gorgonzola, onions and garlic aioli.
Bollinger and his team have brought their own ideas into the fray, such as corn dogs, Frito pie and the British classic bangers and mash.
Bangers & Brews also focuses on sourcing locally from small family-owned businesses in Oregon or even Eugene. “Everything is from Oregon, except for the alligator, reindeer and the veggie sausage,” Bollinger says. “All our pretzels are made in Eugene at Bread Stop.”
Toppings include all the classics from every type of sausage imaginable. If you’re in the mood for something close to a Chicago dog, there’s tomatoes and pepperoncini. If you’re feeling more traditional, then take the sauerkraut. As for the sauce, you would be missing out if you didn’t try the chimichurri, but there are many choices to choose from including spicy mustard for the purists out there.
Bangers & Brews Eugene, 2506 Willakenzie Road, is open from 11:30 am to 8 pm Monday through Saturday. Or you can visit their new campus location at 1239 Alder Street. Open from 11:30 am to 8 pm. Monday through Thursday and from 11:30 am to 9 pm. Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit BangersEugene.com.