TNT Diner

Warm weather brings Mikey’s hot dog cart to downtown Tacoma

A German sausage with grilled sauerkraut from Mikey’s Wiener Trap, a mobile hot dog cart that operates across the street from the County-City Building on Tacoma Avenue.
A German sausage with grilled sauerkraut from Mikey’s Wiener Trap, a mobile hot dog cart that operates across the street from the County-City Building on Tacoma Avenue. skidd@thenewstribune.com

About the time of year when pollen and yard work make us miserable and flip flops rejoin our wardrobes, something else happens: Mobile restaurants come out of winter hibernation.

Last week’s reappearance of Mikey’s Wiener Trap on Tacoma Avenue means the al fresco food truck season is officially upon us.

This is Mike Ruger’s fifth year operating his mobile hot dog cart that features Nathan’s and other higher-quality hot dogs and sausages.

Here’s a first-bite seasonal look at Mikey’s and what he’s serving on his food cart painted the catchy colors of ketchup and mustard (his catering van also is mustard yellow).

Where to find him: Directly across from the County-City Building on Tacoma Avenue. The entrance to a small, urban park is right next to the cart. Tapco Credit Union is nearby.

Why only three days a week? Retirement is sweet, and so is a three-day work week. Ruger retired four years ago from a career in clinical risk management. Retirement for Ruger means only working Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, plus weekend events. He’s already booked every weekend he’s working through the summer.

He butterfly splits all his hot dogs, grills them, and serves them on toasted buns.

Find him until: October is usually when the weather turns and he packs it in for the year.

The dogs: Ruger serves quarter-pound Nathan’s hot dogs on several of his sandwiches, but also a smoked German sausage, a Louisiana hot link and an all-beef frank. When he’s running a Chicago dog special, he special orders Vienna dogs (and the neon relish).

Menu overview: Find a short menu of seven items, plus occasional specials. All dogs are $5-$7 and served a la carte.

On the side: There’s macaroni salad, pasta salad, cans of soda and cookies, each for $1; chips for 50 cents.

From the menu: Nathan’s dogs come on the simply dressed All-American ($5); the New Yorker, with cream cheese and sauteed peppers and onions ($6), and the Pastrami dog with Swiss and sauerkraut. There’s also the Polish sausage (also from Nathan’s, $6); the smoked German sausage with ’kraut ($6), and the Louisiana hot link ($6) with cream cheese, mustard, relish and sauteed onions. Mikey’s also has a chili dog, $6.

Get the: Hands down, the Pastrami is one of the most decadent dogs in Tacoma, rivaling the construction and quality of The Red Hot. A Nathan’s dog is at the base, and the dog is piled with grilled pastrami, grilled sauerkraut, melted Swiss and a squirt of yellow mustard. The German sausage is more simple, with ’kraut and brown mustard, but equally well constructed with grilled sauerkraut.

The beauty is in the details: Ruger believes in building flavor layers. That’s why he adds a little apple and brown sugar to his sauerkraut. He also individually grills ingredients, such as the pastrami, before piling it onto the dog and bun. He butterfly splits all his hot dogs, grills them, and serves them on toasted buns.

The bun: Franz Bakery Pioneer rolls, which Ruger finds yield just the right amount of bun-to-dog ratio.

Condiments: Holy cow, it’s a DIY toppings bonanza. Find 10 Beaver-brand mustards in different flavors, plus Sriracha. There’s also a condiment tray with chopped onions, relish, sauerkraut, pickles, jalapenos and peppers.

Mikey’s Wiener Trap

Where: 925 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-861-5303; bit.ly/1sbkatH.

Serving: Lunch only, around 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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