Note: Here at Burger Friday, we’re taking a brief summertime hiatus from burgers and turning the focus to hot dogs.
Beer and hot dogs, it’s a made-in-heaven combination, right? Especially at Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery, which obviously specializes in both.
Chef Charles McElveen wisely turns to Peterson Craftsman Meats in Osceola, Wis. – they’re the family-owned farm behind so many top-rated Twin Cities burgers – to supply the all-beef hot dogs on his menu.
“It’s a personal preference, and an acknowledgement of their standards,” said McElveen. “It’s the quality of the meats. There’s no filler, no additives. You’re not getting chemicals, and nitrates. The meat shines through, you can really taste the beef. It’s not being covered up with a lot of salt, and spices. It’s a lean, clean beef taste. It’s a very – dare I say it? – healthy hot dog.”
There’s also a marvelous smokiness, present but not overpowering. And Peterson packs that finely ground beef into a first-rate casing. Each bite yields a pronounced pop.
McElveen prepares them in the “old-school way,” he said, boiling them in water, then transferring them to the grill, which gives the casings a bit of a caramelized finish.
There’s a single garnish, and it’s brilliant: a ramekin filled with dollops of two house-made mustards plus a seasoned ketchup. The sweet mustard utilizes brown mustard seeds that mellow in molasses and beer for two weeks; the spicy version gets its scrappy bite from yellow and brown mustard seeds treated with the brewery’s pilsner and a handful of spices.
As for the ketchup, it’s a doctored organic product; McElveen toasts curry powder (“To extract more flavors out of it,” he said) and folds it into the bright, acidic ketchup. Smart, right? I’m going to pick up a bottle of Annie’s and try that at home.
At Waldmann, the hot dogs are served straight-up, minus a bun (all five of the kitchen’s sausages are served this way), and you know what? The bread wrapper isn’t missed.
“Our whole image is that we go with the old-world style,” said McElveen. “That’s the classic way of eating a brat in Germany: no bun. Maybe a side roll, and that’s what we’re sticking with.”
It works. And how.
“We’ve had people from Germany come in and tell us that they haven’t had food like this since they left Germany,” said McElveen. “That’s a good pat on the back for us.”
Price: $14, which includes a crusty dinner roll and two side dishes. I chose a sturdy, bacon-flecked potato salad and crunchy, brightly acidic pickled cucumbers; both were excellent. Other options include a spiced-up cold kraut, a crunchy cabbage slaw and expertly pickled beets.
How he pairs: Since McElveen is cooking in a brewery – one that specializes in contemporary interpretations of classic German brews -- I asked for a beer recommendation for those ordering hot dogs. “My favorite is the Dunkel,” he said. “It’s a dark beer, but it’s not super-dark, it’s very well-rounded. It’s not killing the flavor of the food.”
Where he hot dogs: “I really don’t get out that much,” said McElveen with a laugh, but then he recalled a favorite: K’nack, in Keg and Case Market. “They have a good Weisswurst, it’s pork and veal with parsley and lemon,” he said. “It helps that I know the guy. I’ll call and say, ‘Hey, do you have those today?’”
Pluses and minuses: The setting at Waldmann pretty much defines enchanting. Owner Tom Schroeder deserves every historic preservation prize for his meticulous and obviously affectionate reclamation (and sensitive expansion) of a limestone-built saloon dating to 1857. The brewery’s patio is also a ‘beaut, a comfortable, great-looking and lively warm-weather venue for savoring classic German brews and McElveen’s hearty cooking. Check it out.
On my visit, there was one glitch: service. Long story short, an hour and 20 minutes transpired before our food arrived. “Computer glitch” was the proffered reason for the delay.
An anomaly? Probably. Other parties arrived, ate and departed before our food materialized. Still, our foodless situation (particularly in this relatively quick-service environment) should have not gone unnoticed by the time, 45 minutes post-ordering, when we brought the issue to the attention of our (friendly and apologetic) server. After waiting another half-hour – and roughly five minutes before our (delicious) dinner arrived, I placed a query on Twitter (of course I did). Without naming Waldmann, I asked for the length of time that diners are willing to wait in a restaurant for food. The Twitterverse did not disappoint. Some responses include these:
“They’ve had time to catch it, clean it and cook it.” “At 75 minutes I would start to wonder if the restaurant went out of business.” “The path to the kitchen must be as crooked as the St. Paul streets. Hopefully the car wasn’t towed (that would be peak STP).” “It’s time to cut the losses and come get a burger at Brunson’s Pub.” And, “Meh. I’d have a drink and try to be zen about it. Life happens.” So true.
Metro Transit: Routes 74A, 74B, 74G, 74S.
Address book: 445 Smith Av., St. Paul, 651-222-1857. Open noon to 10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., noon to 11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., noon to 10 p.m. Sun.
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.