Big Truck Tacos has gone to the dogs — and that's a good thing.
Mutts Amazing Hot Dogs, 1400 NW 23, is the answer to the question partners Kathryn Mathis, Cally Johnson and Chris Lower have been asked most in the short time it took their gourmet taco stand to become a master of the universe: When are you going to open another Big Truck Tacos?
Lower told me sometime ago the group would definitely expand, but it might not necessarily be a taco concept.
“We were very leery about opening another Big Truck,” Lower said. “We were concerned what makes Big Truck special couldn't be replicated by simply opening another store.”
What's special about Big Truck can't be defined, but the expansion, retail store and more than 18,000 Facebook friends are evidence that special it is.
While at the National Restaurant Association's food show in Chicago last year, the Big Truck trio traipsed to the iconic hot doggery, Hot Doug's, known far and wide for its gourmet interpretations of Chicago's favorite street food. Lower said they were just going for lunch, but at that point, they were in hot pursuit of a new concept to tackle.
“Not long after we sat down and started eating, we looked at each other and said, ‘We could do this,'” Lower said.
“It really fit in with what we wanted to do, which is to celebrate great American street food,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Mathis celebrate street food by applying their considerable chefs skills and vast imaginations to create new interpretations without losing the integrity of the original. Some call it artsy-fartsy tacos and hot dogs; I call it inspired and delicious. And the lines tend to indicate I'm in the majority, at least on this one.
So the chefs adoringly known as the Taco Twins don't feel they have to add Wiener Witches, Frank Fillies or Coney Queens to their aliases; they've hired Rachel Wojciak as general manager and sous chef Amie Gehlert to run their new dog show.
Gehlert, who is a native of Ponca City, migrated north like so many young chefs, last working in Minneapolis.
“I'm having a great time with it,” Gehlert said. “It's good to be home and great to be involved in something this exciting.”
The menu consists of more than 25 hot dog varieties, plus a build-your-own option.
“Right now, we're not doing substitutions on our specialty dogs, because there's not a lot of carryover of ingredients from dog to dog,” Johnson said. “And we don't start cooking the dog until it's ordered, so if we ask the kitchen to start making a lot changes it's going to really slow things down. If people want to make a lot of changes, we point them toward the build-your-own option.”
Of the nearly 30 varieties, I've eaten or at least sampled 19 and haven't found one I wouldn't order again. In conceiving the menu, Johnson and Mathis did a beautiful job of not only creating a dog for every flavor profile but also paying homage to a wide variety of cultures.
“We look at this as our opportunity to affect local culture,” Johnson said.
Not only aesthetically but socially. Mathis explained communal tables at Big Truck weren't put in out of necessity rather than design but the result was one of many shards of serendipity reflecting the story of their success.
“We had these poles in the middle of the dining room, so Chris had the idea of putting communal tables around them,” she said. “What happened was people had to start talking to each other. Pretty soon, the people who came here a lot started helping out the new people and making friends.”
So, the team decided to include two even larger communal tables at Mutts. At those tables and in the booths and smaller tables that surround them, you'll usually find a lot of customers. And in front of them, you'll find franks made of Kobe beef, rabbit, duck, lamb, bison, wild boar and even falafel. Some are wrapped in bacon, and toppings include potato salad, fried okra, French fries, curried cabbage and apple, pepperoni, wasabi mayo, smoked Gouda, tzatziki and feta, truffle aioli, crawfish, walnut-arugula pesto, avocados, pinto beans, chili, practically every imaginable pepper and fried or scrambled eggs.
Dog prices start at $3 and range up to $9. The plan is to add some home-cranked sausages in the future.
Corn dogs come in large or mini pups, and the fried bologna sandwich, called a Fried Frisbee, is definitely worth a whirl.
The fries, which are sized to share, can be fried in duck fat and drizzled in truffle oil if you please. If deep-fried sides don't appeal to you, Mutts offers deviled eggs, red-skinned potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and chili bowls that come in meated and unmeated. The fried pickles are whole spears battered in corn meal and served with a pink sauce you'll be dipping your thumb in after the pickles disappear.
Will Mutts Amazing Hot Dogs stop you from returning to your favorite hot dog stand, whether it be Iggy's in Edmond, Coney Island or Coit's? No. But it will make you ponder what other sacred cows, or pigs, might need a makeover from the Taco Twins or some other ambitious and creative chef.
You might even feel compelled to talk about your developing culinary postmodernist philosophy with a stranger across the table, which could lead to a new friendship — or even a partnership that results in a gourmet doughnut trailer.
Wouldn't that be amazing?