The Best Wurst 

Tucked into El Cerrito Plaza, The Junket has been meeting the East Bay's blood sausage and Bovril needs for 27 years.

You know how it goes. You wake up and — well, it's just a blood sausage kind of day. And with every fiber of your being, you crave that salty dark primality, the sly keep-on-chewing resilience that reminds you, along with a slight mineral undertaste, that this might be the world's naughtiest meat. It is, after all, just what it claims to be: congealed animal hemoglobin, mixed with fat and/or meal and/or crumbs. And if you grew up in, say, Heidelberg or Glasgow, it says "home" to you, a nostalgia nearly impossible to stanch around here. Even with six restaurants on every block, each one edgier than the next, asking for blood sausage, blutwurst, or black pudding is like asking for a Republican ballot.

But not at The Junket.

An El Cerrito Plaza mainstay and an expat magnet for 27 years, this expansive deli stocks not one but two different varieties of blood sausage: fine-grained and chunky. And among its dozens of sandwich options is blood tongue or Zungenwurst, a fist-thick sausage comprising pigs' blood, oatmeal, suet — which gleams amid that rich redness like crazy frosted windows — and chunks of pickled pigs' tongue.

Like all the sandwiches here, especially when ordered with a glass of dark German Köstritzer beer on tap, it's almost enough for two meals: The hearty hillocks of freshly cut meat on delivered-daily bread are piled high with lettuce, fat tomato wedges, and veritable reams of cucumber, sliced wax-paper thin.

Then again, you could order corned beef, Black Forest ham, knackwurst, prosciutto, avocado, olive salad, roasted pepper, cheese — including low-fat French yogurt cheese — or this place's most popular choice, turkey and Swiss.

If you're a candy-ass.

Bruno and Cindy Frisch opened The Junket because they know firsthand how it feels to be far from home and yearning for even those simplest flavors that one can't take for granted anymore. British Cindy was in nursing school shortly after World War II when, vacationing in Germany, she met her future husband, an engineer.

"But where could we live together? Not in England," she sighs now. "The English people still didn't like Germans much." The couple immigrated to Canada first, then the United States, where both worked for large Bay Area corporations. When Cindy's company changed hands, she and Bruno decided to start their own business: a neighborhood "meeting place," as she calls it, that would remind transplanted Britons and Germans of home.

"Sometimes you can have everything you want in life," Cindy says, "but you still need a Flake" — i.e., the Cadbury Flake bar, a sentimental favorite among Britons who associate its shattery lightness with forty years of dreamy advertisements featuring hot "Flake Girls" nibbling the bars while idling in bathtubs and gardens.

Those of us who grew up watching, say, Good & Plenty ads wouldn't know about that. And while we don't like to think of ourselves as brand-driven drones, an unnerving power resides in logos and jingles that transcends time, place, and reason. Yes, you can buy the world's best jam and honey and peanut butter at East Bay farmers' markets, but the British want their Bovril, that salty blackish beef extract that doubles as a bread-spread and a hot drink. They want their Marmite yeast paste. And their Oxo beef bouillon cubes, their Bisto beef-gravy granules, their yolky-sweet Heinz salad cream, their Burgess concentrated mint sauce, their Maltesers and their Smarties and their Piccadilly frozen beef-and-onion pies.

All of which they can find here, among friends.

Overhead fans swirl over the dining area, where a bustling lunch crowd gazes out the huge south-facing window, surveying the plaza parking lot and, beyond, a row of telephone poles and wires snaking down a sleepy residential street. Children amble past wearing martial-arts gear; TG Tae Kwon Do is two doors east. A few doors west is Trader Joe's.

Which makes you realize: On one hand, Trader Joe's is a major shopping destination that helps keeps The Junket and its other neighbors in business. On the other hand, the contrast is glaring. Trader Joe's strives to effect a certain hominess. Its name and faux-aloha motif suggest hey-dude authenticity. Its motto is "Your Neighborhood Grocery Store." Yet despite what it sells, Trader Joe's is as corporate as Burger King. We conveniently forget this fact as long as our local TJ isn't standing practically next door to a truly independent mom-and-pop outfit; well, grandmom-and-pop, in the Frisches' case. Their personal touch permeates the Cologne posters on the walls, the wine rack topped — like the one in your uncle's basement — with tiny flags and miniature barrels. It permeates the pale wooden tables and chairs, the counter bar with its five tall stools, the afternoon-tea crowd sampling strudel and marzipan cake, the German-language class that meets here on the second Friday afternoon of every month.

A personal touch infuses the food, of course, including the five salads prepared here daily. Someone decided quite consciously to chop the firm potatoes in both the American and the bacon-jeweled German potato salads pleasingly large. And someone put serious effort into perfecting the tart-sweet coleslaw recipe, again cutting the carrots and the red and white cabbage a touch larger than usual — pipe-cleaner-wide — and keeping them crisp.

And a personal touch infuses the shelves stocked with hundreds of imported items. Both Cindy and Bruno will happily provide background on any of their products — from Typhoo tea to Swiss spaetzle to sinus-searing Löwensenf mustard to Heinz baked beans: the British kind, which are more salty than sweet.

"That's what you put on your toast," Cindy says. "Simple things mean a lot."

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