Photo |Andy MacDonald
Location: Anywhere, USA
I really dislike the word “gourmet.” In conversation, that word irritates me almost as much as the phrase “classically trained.” Both imply something that really can’t be qualified because there is no definitive answer to what level the subject has reached. Does the classically trained ballerina, chef, musician have a bachelor’s degree? Master’s? Doctorate? Or did he or she train under multiple mentors, learning the classics with no paper to prove it?
As a noun, gourmet means a connoisseur of food and drink. As an adjective, old Mr. Webster defines it as: “of, relating to, or being high quality, expensive or specialty food typically requiring elaborate or expert preparation.” Well … how expensive? How much of an expert do you have to be to prepare something considered gourmet? Silly, isn’t it?
So, despite my aversion to the word, I am pretty sure I ate some gourmet hot dogs this week. It was an opportunity I had to jump on as soon as I found out the food truck known as the Hotdoggery was inconveniently parked at The Grounds for a dog show. To be honest, I didn’t know Mobile hosted dog shows, but I was certainly happy to see plenty of show-quality pups and handlers in the back parking lot taking smoke breaks from the competition indoors. Meanwhile, at the food truck, they were having a dog show of their own.
I know, you could be asking: Just how crazy can a hot dog get? Let me explain where this is coming from. The brain behind this operation is in the head of Chef Tony Nicholas. You may remember his West Mobile restaurant, Hungry Owl. If you’re unfamiliar, those of us who are will attest Chef Tony didn’t take it lightly. That restaurant gave us years of good, heavy food that often approached over the top, sometimes cresting, with giant burgers as well as wild creations like alligator pot pie, lots of Cajun and Creole fare and amazing barbecue shrimp.
This latest concept of a restaurant, on wheels, serving hot dogs (the way your momma never did), is a different lifestyle for the hands-on Nicholas. Running a food truck is no easy task in this Alabama heat. It’s vicious. I’m sure the air conditioned environs of a brick and mortar cross your mind when those temps climb. Kitchens are hot enough already.
Approaching this oversized hot dog cart, you first notice the striking pop art paint job. It almost looks like an old-school Batman menu. A list of hot dogs, Conecuh sausage, kielbasa and even a veggie dog are flanked by sandwiches and nachos. There are no traditional buns here. All of the items are served on what amounts to oversized lobster rolls coming out of the Northeast. You should think of these more as hot dog sandwiches.
My first was a Cubbie Dog ($6.99). This quarter-pound beef link was gorgeously nestled under tomato, relish, peppers and onions, with pickle, mustard, celery salt and a dash of poppy seeds. You really have to see it to get the beauty of it. What a way to start.
Up next was the Delta Dog ($9.99). Conecuh sausage was sticking out of both ends of this monster. Onions and peppers were the secondary attraction and crawfish sauce worked its magic into the name. Topped with fried onions and candied jalapeños, you’ll notice a lot of this menu is topped similarly. Even in the Hungry Owl days, Chef Tony was candying loads of jalapeños. It’s kind of his stamp, and they are so good.
I never thought I’d have a sausage dog with potato salad on it. Slaw? Of course, all the time. But when I saw the Spud Dog ($8.99), I knew it had to be mine. That same giant link of Conecuh was covered in baked potato salad, a little bit of chili, cheese and the usual candied jalapeños and fried onions. If you think I ate all of this there, you are giving me more credit than you should, but I’d like to mention this one was even better for round two at the house.
Man cannot live on dogs alone, so I had to try the Gulf Coast Sammie ($9.99). Also loaded with baked potato salad, imagine Gulf shrimp and crawfish sauce. It wouldn’t be right without fried onions and candied jalapeños. Killer.
You could build your own nachos from an incredible list of 14 toppings and eight proteins (if you include a veggie link as protein), much like you would a pizza. I was too lazy for all that and opted for the recommended Pineapple Pork Nachos ($9.99). This handsome plate held a neat row of chips with cheese topped with pulled pork, pineapple salsa for sweetness and Diablo sauce for heat. Of course we had to have a candied jalapeño or two.
I’d love to go back for Barbecue Shrimp Nachos at some point. I hope they’re like the old days!
It really is a heck of an operation for a food truck. Everything has the Chef Tony stamp on it for sure, and although I didn’t know what to expect my first time, I knew it was going to be big and bold. He did not disappoint. This isn’t fine dining with casual atmosphere. This is food for the hungry and unafraid. But don’t think poor Tony is doing this without help. He’s flanked by the skilled Jessica and Kim, a dynamic duo who refer to themselves as “The Weenie Wranglers!”
No one has ever complained about portions being small at any of Tony’s restaurants and this one is no different. The bread makes as much of a difference as the ingredients, and despite its size and quality, it still feels overstuffed. I’d like to see this in a brick and mortar, possibly Midtown or LoDa, and fingers crossed we will get it. Until then, follow them on social media to track down the truck.
I hate the word gourmet, but jeez, what else can I call these things? Whatever it is, it’s good.
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