My friends HB and TheDoctor invited me to come try their friend’s gourmet hot dog restaurant, so of course I was game. It’s more of what’s referred to as a “pop-up store”. This is someone who has a restaurant idea, but not a location or store-front picked out just yet. They take over the kitchen, dining room, and bar for the night and serve a special menu of what they intend to serve in the new restaurant when it becomes a reality. This allows them to work out any bugs and get feedback on what people like and don’t like before the operation is in full swing. The Prairie Dogs restaurant was being run in a small restaurant called First Course at 56th and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis.
I ordered a large basket of double-fried fries while I waited. I think the boss man, Tobie, took pity on me since I was waiting for everyone so long (I was looking longingly at the menu board changing my mind a hundred times about what I was going to order) and brought over a “Pliny The Elder” hot dog for HB and I to split. This is a really great tasting dog fried in duck fat, covered in foie gras mousse and currant apple relish. Personally, not enough toppings for me, mainly because the toppings were mind-blowingly good. I just wanted more, frankly.
Tobie was working the room, making sure people were happy with their dogs, and getting general comments from customers about what they liked and didn’t like. Tobie is a Minneapolis restaurateur and has a lot of experience setting up restaurants in the area.
The double-fried fresh-cut fries arrived and were just alright. All of the double fried fries I’ve had in the past were quite crispy and almost had a crust on them. These were a bit soggy for my taste, personally, and I expected a bit more crunch to them. Thankfully, they were good and salty, like I like, so I didn’t have any problem eating way more than my half of the fries. (Sorry I’m a fatty, HB.) They reminded me of when my mom makes home-made French fries for the family and doesn’t quite get them crispy enough.
Everyone else arrived and we decided on food. I ordered a Micho’s Sonoran Dog – bacon-wrapped and grilled wiener with cilantro aioli, bean spread, avocado, cotija cheese, onion, tomato, and salsa verde. This is a pretty serious set of ingredients. It was quite messy, but I don’t actually mind that when eating a hot dog. The avocado, cotija, and salsa verde made it taste very much like a taco clone (not in a bad way, I loved it), and the cilantro aioli was the perfect amount of sauce for this thing. Extremely good dog.
I also ordered a Spicy Merguez – a handmade lamb sausage with piquillo peppers, feta, mint aioli on a soft bun. The sausage was really delicious. It could have been a little spicier, but maybe piquillo peppers aren’t spicy – I maybe could have added sri racha to this one if I ordered it again. The feta, I couldn’t taste, but the mint aioli was surprisingly good (and I’m not even usually a mint jelly with my lamb kind of guy). It added some good lubrication to the sausage. Also, a really good dog, but the bun seemed to overwhelm the ingredients.
Everyone decided that overall, the dogs were quite good and had great snap to them. They were Vienna wieners for the hot dogs and homemade sausages for the other items. The Vienna wieners gave it a really authentic Chicago dog taste that I miss (I’m an Illinois native and know my Vienna sausages). The ingredients were creative and very fresh, but everyone seemed to think there was too much bun for the proper bun-to-topping ratio. The exception being the Prairie Dog – the traditional Chicago dog – and the Micho’s Sonoran Dog, being exactly right for the sheer number of toppings on those two.
I personally can’t wait for Tobie to open up an actual permanent storefront. He’s got some super creative culinary ideas and knows his way around homemade sausages. He’s also quite personable and genuine - I saw home taking some photos and video of the evening. He takes pride in his work and although some of the dogs were pricey, you ARE eating gourmet hot dogs, so you should expect to pay a little more. The flavors were worth it, in my book, and I’m looking forward to trying what I assume will be a pretty creative permanent menu of hot dog wizardry. (I'm also looking forward to coming back and trying out the food at First Course!)
Thanks for the opportunity to try out Minneapolis’ newest restaurant concept!