The burger: Here at Burger Friday, we’re taking a brief hiatus from burgers and turning the focus to hot dogs.
“There’s not much more that exemplifies summer than a hot dog,” said Sandcastle chef/co-owner Doug Flicker. “It’s one of those foods that appeals to small children and grown men and everyone in between. It’s classic.”
He ought to know. He sells a few of the Twin Cities’ most appealing iterations: the Nokomis Dog, named for the south Minneapolis lake where his popular beachside restaurant is located, and the Dog Flicker (pictured, above).
“You just drop the ‘u’ from Doug and you get ‘Dog,’” he said with a laugh. “I’m very proud of myself for discovering that. Thanks, Mom.”
The latter was the first menu item he created for his seasonal counter-service restaurant, now in its seventh summer. “We decided to do something mainstream, but put a fun twist on it.”
The Dog Flicker incorporates the familiar Vienna all-beef dog, but its toppings are much less conventional: a punchy kimchi (“Because I love kimchi,” said Flicker) and a black pepper-flecked fried egg, its yolk slightly runny. “That goes back to the time when everyone everywhere put an egg on everything,” said Flicker with a laugh. “But what isn’t good with an egg on top?”
Exactly. A fresh cilantro flourish adds a garden-fresh finish. There really isn’t a graceful way to consume the messy Dog Flicker – on the flip side, tackling a hot dog with a knife and fork feels a little silly – but the potential for embarrassment is far outweighed by the satisfying deliciousness.
The Nokomis Dog (pictured, above) wisely begins with a snappy skinned, nicely salty, pork-and-beef hot dog (“It’s an old-school wiener,” said Flicker) imported across state lines from Wisconsin, and then the (delightful) twists begin: a pile-on of cool, crunchy, not-too-sweet coleslaw, and a sprinkling of distinctive-looking peppers. The chewy, bite-size peppers, fire engine-red and a memorable teardrop shape, have a mellow sweet-sour bite. Turns out, Flicker was using them at Piccolo, his former four-star restaurant in south Minneapolis.
“At the time, they weren’t a mainstream ingredient,” said Flicker. “But there was potential in them, as an attention-grabber.”
Sandcastle patrons have been talking about them ever since; and eating them, with gusto.
As for the buns, they hit all the right marks, standing up to all the fillings they’re asked to support without feeling ponderous and doughy. They’re supplied by Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake.
For those who prefer their hot dogs minus any chef-driven accoutrements, Sandcastle offers an unadorned Vienna beef dog. It’s a top-seller, “because it appeals to children,” said Flicker (not to mention risk-averse lakeside diners unfamiliar with the glories of kimchi and Sweety Drop peppers). In terms of popularity, the Dog Flicker is No. 2, and the Nokomis Dog follows close behind. (All are superseded, sales-wise, by the stand’s fish tacos).
While the Dog Flicker and Nokomis Dog remain menu constants, what’s great about Sandcastle (besides, it must be said, its swoon-inducing BLT) is that the quick-service restaurant keeps evolving. The latest additions are a long string of craft brewery pop-ups, as well as an expanded patio.
“It’s really amazing to be part of the park system,” said Flicker, who also operates the nearby Bull’s Horn Food & Drink. “Just like anything else, it’s a beast at times, and there are the issues of running a seasonal operation. Every year we have to start over, we have to re-hire and re-train, and there are the ups and downs of rainy days. But that all goes away when I sit on our patio, have a hot dog and stare at the lake."
Price: Nokomis Dog $5, Dog Flicker $6, plain dog $4.
Where he hot dogs: “Sandcastle is my hot dog fix,” said Flicker. “It’s always the first thing I order when we open in the spring. But I’ll have a hot dog if I go to a movie theater. Amy [Greeley, Flicker’s spouse and business partner] turned me on to that, years ago.”
Metro Transit: Route 14C.
Address book: 4955 Nokomis Pkwy. W., Mpls., 612-721-0756. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite hot dog? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org. Burger Friday’s all-hot dog diet will continue through the Minnesota State Fair.