Two things I like about a walk-in spot like Hot Rod Dog:
1. A DIY condiment bar that lets dog lovers load up on onions, mustard, relish, pickles, peppers, etc. etc. etc. It’s fast service eating, and customized all you want. In and out in five minutes, even if there's a line? I'm a fan.
2. Great dogs. And when I say great, I mean deep-down delicious (no fatty fillers!). Blue Max Sausage Co. in Puyallup is responsible for those delectable smoked sausages.
Hot Rod Dog opened its second outpost last month, which I wrote about here.
Lines can spill out the door when it gets busy, but it moves fast. A table and a few chairs are out front, but all that’s inside is a counter for noshing. But hot dogs are walking around food, so who needs a table, right?
The menu is all about dogs. Well, smoked sausages actually, since they make up the bulk of the menu. Plus chili.
The all-beef kosher dog comes from a different vendor, but all the smoked sausages come from Blue Max Sausage Co. in Puyallup. I’ve been buying my sausage there for years. I can vouch that the people who own the place (the previous and new owners) labor over their meats, whether it’s their smoked sausages or their house-made jerky. The counter workers always are eager to answer questions, and they are experts in sausage.
One bite into a Blue Max brat sends me to a carnivorous happy place. It has the toothsome, meaty texture of a high quality sausage, which Hot Rod Dog co-owner JoAnna, who owns and runs the restaurants with husband Tom Irick, described perfectly, “They don’t use fillers. It’s just a real, kind of, to me, a real old fashioned sausage.” And there’s a reason for that. The sausages are made from lean pork shoulder and fresh ingredients. And it’s hand-crafted sausage.
Of course, hand crafting anything can lead to variation in flavor batch to batch, which Irick said customers comment upon occasionally (“That batch was more peppery,” a customer told her recently about the mozzarella cheese sausage). To her, there’s no other option for buying sausage. Husband Tom, when he opened the original Hot Rod Dog, wanted a local vendor and someone who handcrafted their links. They’ve used Blue Max from day one.
Of Blue Max’s smoked sausage line, Hot Rod Dog serves the brat, mozzarella cheese sausage, a kielbasa and andouille, all priced at $3.99 and served on a warm, fresh bun. The dogs are big, and so are the buns. They’re not those little cheap ballpark dogs. These are the big, real deal. A meal on a bun.
The andouille gets my nod of approval for kicky heat and a chunky, coarse texture. Cajun spices and a peppery bite tickle out a back-of the-throat kick of heat.
When it comes to chili dogs, I like the texture and chunk of the chili at Hot Rod Dog, but it lacks the spice I crave in my chili dog. That’s why I recommend substituting the all-beef kosher dog with the Blue Max andouille sausage ($4.29 for the chili dog). The chili is a hybrid style – thick with red beans, nuggets of ground hamburger that have the texture of meatballs and a veg-heavy soupy base of tomatoes, onions, green peppers and jalapenos. When ordered by the cup or bowl ($2.99/$3.79), it comes topped with cheddar cheese and dried cilantro.
Next door to Hot Rod Dog, the couple is busy at work prepping Sidebar Bistro, which they think will be open in a few more weeks, depending on health department and liquor board permitting. I wrote about the Sidebar Bistro concept here. The couple hosted a preview party last night for a neighboring law firm and tested out their new coffee, Batdorf and Bronson roasters of Olympia. They’ll host more opening parties, including one Thursday.
“It’s the unknowns that are holding us up, but we’re jazzed,” said JoAnna. They should have a more firm opening date after the health inspection and liquor permit is approved, she added.
As for the Sidebar menu, she’s already tweaked it some. She may lighten up some of the comfort food offerings for lighter spring fare. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted on details as they get closer to opening.
Hot Rod DogWhere: 1103 Tacoma Ave. SPhone: 253-572-DOGS (3647)Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-SaturdaysOriginal Hot Rod Dog: 1742 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-593-6030
SideBar BistroWhere: 1101 Tacoma Ave. S.Phone: Coming soon.Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (approximate; hours still being determined)Opening: In about two weeks