Winning wieners

Prairie Dogs serves handcrafted sausages ranking among the Twin Cities’ best

Grant Tillery

Hot dogs are the bastard child of the sausage family. They’re the butt of innumerable phallic jokes and derided as mystery-meat atrocities. The taste of mass-market wieners (including the beloved Oscar Mayer brand) does nothing to improve these perceptions.

Sometimes though, hot dogs transcend. After eating several bites of a top-notch frankfurter, bad memories of subpar ballpark fare disappear. No longer is the hot dog just a vehicle for ketchup, mustard, onions and relish — it becomes a canvas for a co-opted American art form, if art and food indeed intersect.

One thing’s for sure, Prairie Dogs treat hot dogs and sausage with the highest artistry, hitting their food stride after soft-opening their permanent brick-and-mortar location two weeks ago (they’re still waiting on their liquor license to make things official). Owners Craig Johnson, Prairie Dogs’ sausage maker, and Tobie Nidetz are Twin Cities restaurant scene veterans and began Prairie Dogs as a pop-up.

A loyal gathering followed, so the pair took to Kickstarter to fund a restaurant of their own. Though two attempts at funding proved unfruitful, they gathered enough money together to secure prime real estate on West Lake Street and enough mojo to serve up top-notch homemade sausages.

For a hot dog and sausage joint, the dining room is upscale and feels straight out of a Restoration Hardware showroom. Black accents offset the brown wood tables, and a large chalkboard menu commands the entirety of the restaurant’s western wall. A small bar wraps around the northern wall and will no doubt become popular once the liquor license is instated, being that most of Prairie Dogs’ menu would pair well with beer.

Foietine is Prairie Dogs’ take on poutine, and it’s a frontrunner for the best variation in town. Poutine’s inherent decadence is amplified by foie gras gravy that coats the crisp fries. The French fries are salty without being overbearing, thanks to the unctuous, slightly sweet lamb neck. Melted, oozing cheese curds top off the concoction, and Prairie Dogs’ choice of Hook’s white cheddar is a no-fail thanks to its sharpness.

The Bahn Mi Joy Dog lives up to its lofty billing. Unlike many takes on the Vietnamese sandwich, Prairie Dogs’ iteration captures the classic flavors without losing the hot dog’s Americana essence. Though Bahn Mi butter is absent from the equation, the rest of the traditional fixings are present. Who knew pickled daikon radish and carrots are a harmonious complement to chicken liver pate?

What matters most is the quality of the hot dog on which Prairie Dogs delivers. The franks are all-beef with natural casing, and upon the first bite, it’s easy to forget that supermarket hot dogs even exist. In the Banh Mi Joy Dog, the hot dog functioned as a proper hot dog should — not drawing attention away from the toppings, but adding smokiness that enhances the flavor of the entire creation. Prairie Dogs’ buns looked soft but proved tasty.

The Pig Easy makes a strong case for best sausage in town consideration. The sausage in question is creamy, smoky boudin blanc, a porky Cajun favorite associated with organ meat. Though most meat shouldn’t be melt-in-your-mouth delicious, boudin’s texture gives it a free pass. Between eating the sausage and leaving Prairie Dogs, half of the group’s conversation was about the glory of The Pig Easy. Hot peppers and crunchy cracklin’s blanketed the sausage, as did blue cheese. Pairing two creamy ingredients is bold, but in the hands of Prairie Dogs, it pays off.

Prairie Dogs’ dessert menu tantalizes with a smattering of milkshakes and ice cream-based desserts. The Pok Pok is derived from a Thai dessert; three scoops of Sebastian Joe’s ice cream are bathed in passion fruit oil and topped with hot fudge and caramel sauce. The catch: It’s served in a toasted hot dog bun. Ice cream and bread prove an excellent combination, and together they create a toasty campfire taste. The passion fruit oil brings out the umami in the vanilla ice cream — some bites tasted like cheesecake ice cream, some blood orange sorbet, but all delicious.

Though there are vegan and health-conscious options available, Prairie Dogs is perfect for occasions where you have no reservations about loosening your belt a notch or two. Highbrow hot dogs and sausage call for a feast, and the best way to enjoy Prairie Dogs is with a dollop of civilized gluttony.

 

Prairie Dogs

 

Location: 610 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

Prices: Hors d’oeuvres, $3-$13; Hot dogs, sausages and sandwiches, $3.75-$11

Hours: Call for hours