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Hot Dog of the Week: Reindeer Hot Dog
Past Weeks' Dogs
Popular on the streets of Anchorage, Alaska, and slowly making its way across the country, this week we bring you the Reindeer Dog. Made from Alaskan caribou, these dogs are split and grilled and served on a steamed bun.
The taste is similar to venison sausage but slightly less gamey. Standard condiments include grilled onions deglazed with Coca-Cola, mustard, and even cream cheese, Seattle-style.
The reindeer franks come from two major Alaska purveyors: Indian Valley Meats, which makes natural casing dogs containing a mix of caribou and beef, and Alaska Sausage And Seafood, where the reindeer links are smoked and seasoned with coriander.
Reindeer or caribou is slightly different from the venison normally served in American restaurants (which is often elk or deer meat from New Zealand). If it makes you feel any better, caribou actually look less like Rudolph and more like cows with antlers.
The Reindeer Hot Dog boom seems to have started with M.A.'s hot dogs, featured in Rick Sebak's 1999 Hot Dog Program. M.A.'s is a makeshift cart owned by Mike Anderson that's been around for 15 years, serving up regular beef dogs and Polish sausages alongside the popular reindeer dogs and Louisiana hot links.
Known for his homemade sauces and signature Coca-Cola grilled onions, as well as his colorful personality, people still line up 30 deep at Mike's cart on 4th and F street in Anchorage, even with reindeer hot dog trucks sprouting up around every corner.
Outside of Alaska in Denver, Colorado, ex-repo man Biker Jim runs a cart selling reindeer dogs and a whole array of game sausages including elk, pheasant and rattlesnake, also garnished with grilled onions cooked in Coca-Cola. Turns out Biker Jim and M.A. are old buddies who met working in a kitchen 20 years ago. Jim modeled his cart after M.A.'s success but added a few twists of his own, including the Seattle-style application of cream cheese and his homemade cheesecake.
As the story goes, Jim bought his used cart from a guy in Ohio who in turn had picked up the caulking gun full of cream cheese idea from a Seattle vendor. At first he didn't think much of the cream cheese but It's now pretty much the standard condiment on a Denver reindeer dog along with the Coca-Cola onions.
Biker Jim's has been around for a few years now and has established a cult following of his own. Anthony Bourdain stopped by in November and basically proclaimed Biker Jim's to be the best food in Denver, which we'll hopefully watch on No Reservations some time in the near future.
Beez Neez is a new vendor in Portland, Oregon, serving Reindeer hot dogs split, grilled, and slathered with cream cheese or bacon for an extra 75 cents. Bacon is also available. (Doesn't look like he's got the Coca-Cola onions though.) Beez Neez also has regular dogs, Polish foot-longs, Kobe beef dogs, Louisiana hot links and brats.
In many cities there's not much middle-ground between grabbing a 99-cent Dirty Water Dog and paying $19 for a "Kobe" beef hot dog garnished with truffle aioli and cabbage foam. It's nice to see these guys offering some seriously unique gourmet dogs at a reasonable price in a proper environment for hot dog consumption.
Reindeer dogs are pretty scarce outside of Alaska, although you can order them online from the purveyors mentioned above. Or if you know any hunters who bring home an entire elk or deer and don't know what to do with it, hot dogs are popular solutions. Game processors all over the country can turn pretty much anything into a hot dog.
M.A.'s Gourmet Hot Dogs
4th and F Street, Anchorage AK 99510 (map)
Biker Jim's Gourmet Hot Dog Stand
Corner of 16th Street Mall and Arapahoe Street, Denver CO (map)
Corner of California Street and 17th Street, Denver CO 80202 (map)
Beez Neez Gourmet Sausages
SW 3rd and Washington, Portland OR 97204 (map)
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.