Wednesday, July 3, 2013

BJ’s Hot Dog Shoppe & Italian Beef

DorkyBarb mentioned a few months back that she needed to take me to this particular hot dog place in St. Paul. I, of course, was very interested. But it wasn’t until after this wildly inappropriate shower proposition conversation we had that I actually went there. See below…

DorkyBarb met me there, since she works nearby. The place is in a small off-the-beaten path strip mall on the east side of St. Paul. You really have to MEAN to go there, though they do have a sandwich-board-style sign on a more busy street to let people know they’re there.

You order at the counter from this incredibly awesome and friendly man who will tell you what’s good (everything), let you sample things (everything), and makes you feel right at home. He even gave me a sample of the Italian beef in a little sample cup, just so I could make sure I was going to like it – it was top-notch. I like this guy. He’s originally from Chicago and takes an immense amount of pride in the quality of his food. He’s old school and he knows what he’s talking about. You can get dogs and sausages and chili and even tamales (I’m soooo curious about these), but I went with my standard dog restaurant benchmark – the Italian Combo. It’s an Italian sausage covered in Italian beef on a bun that SHOULD be dipped in au jus – which the gentleman will ask you if you want dipped. You do, believe me.

You have the option of various cheeses to be placed on your bun before the meat is put in, and I got provolone and pepperjack. They also have a huge list of toppings to choose from (there are photos on the front of the counter if you have questions about what the toppings will actually look like – very smart of them). Some dogs get the works, but I went with hot giardiniera on mine. And an orange Fanta – duh.

You get your food right away (you actually pay after you eat, so you can enjoy your food immediately without fumbling for your wallet while holding food. There are a handful of tables inside and a few out on the sidewalk for you to choose.

I grabbed a spork from the counter since this thing looked like it was going to get mushy and sloppy. Believe it or not, the bun absorbed the au jus, but perfectly stood up to the juicy and liquidy ingredients like a champ – down to the very last bite. It was more of a hassle to eat the thing with the spork than it was to pick it up. I picked it up and was surprised how much this thing weighed. It was massive. The Italian beef was super thin and really juicy. The Italian sausage had some snap to the casing and was really quite tasty. The giardiniera was spicy and had tons of veggies in it (celery, peppers, olives, cauliflower, red peppers) and didn’t wuss out on the heat. The bun I will keep raving about. DorkyBarb said the couple that runs the place had to go through three or four different bun vendors until they found one that could stand up to the juicy ingredients they use – like they traditionally do in Chicago. I’m glad they patiently waded through vendors, because this bun had awesome flavor and retained it structure like a champion. Well done.

DorkBarb’s sandwich also looked fantastic. She opted for the Italian beef (no sausage in hers) and some different cheese and ingredients. Everything looks wonderful here and I can’t wait to go back.

Apparently, the lovely wife makes some amazing desserts and cakes for the shop, but they were all out today. They usually have southern caramel cake, red velvet cake, the best lemon cake in the world (according to DorkyBarb and the husband), and cafeteria style butter cookies. They all sounded fantastic, so I’ll have to try them the next time I’m there. And there WILL be a next time. And, I’ll even make sure I call DorkyBarb since she works right up the street and would be more than happy to join me. No inappropriate txt message next time – promise.

Their claim (on the sign) is they have the best Italian Beef in the Twin Cities. They aren’t lying. They beat Chris & Rob’s, and surprisingly beat Uncle Franky’s (which I am a huge fan of). [And, from what I've been told, it beats the Wienery, also.] But it’s true. It’s the best around. It makes me miss my Illinois roots, but now I’ve got someplace to appease my hunger pangs.

Thanks, DorkyBarb!

Top 5 things about BJ’s Hot Dog Shoppe & Italian Beef
1. Italian beef
2. Italian sausage
3. The couple that run this place are fantastic
4. Large number of toppings
5. Desserts (remains to be seen, but I’m guessing they’re up there)

Bottom 5 things
1. Can drive past it easily and not know it’s there
2. I’m trying hard to think of something bad, but there just isn’t anything. Sorry.

1990 Suburban Ave
St. Paul, MN 55119