Prairie Dogs at Lyn-Lake, Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

When it comes to restaurant reviews, the phrase “star rating” is loaded, complicated, and confusing for a variety of reasons. Everyone’s star system is different; every reviewer brings different standards and biases to the table; and a star rating is always, to some extent, the subjective masquerading as the objective.

The Heavy Table’s star system is unusual – a “one star” review for us isn’t a slam (it’s a mixed review, and the stars get better from there on up), and we assess restaurants contextually. This allows for the existence of four-star taquerias or pizza joints.

Our high-star ratings aren’t dependent on a French brigade-style kitchen, pricey imported ingredients, or luxurious interior design. They’re dependent upon being superb at what you say you’re going to do. They’re dependent upon good value and good hospitality. They’re (little “d”) democratic that way.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

All of this is to explain why, after three visits, we think the hot dogs-and-sausages joint Prairie Dogs deserves a three-and-a-half star rating. Our expectations were that we’d be served hot dogs and sausages. The place instead delivered absolutely fantastic hot dogs and sausages — and terrific fried bread and butter pickles, and a killer milkshake, and more.

The restaurant is a collaboration between industry veteran Tobie Nidetz and sausage artisan Craig Johnson, and the partnership brings experience, passion, and a laser-like focus on details to the restaurant. Although the dining room is a bit antiseptic, the wall decor (including a sprawling chalk menu) is lively and enjoyable, the hospitality is warm, and the concept is crystal clear: It’s all about the dogs and sausages, with a great deal of creativity, many artisan purveyors, and very few distractions.

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

Ultimately, of course, the proof is in the meat. Let’s start at the core of the menu: the Prairie Dog ($4.50), a Chicago-style hot dog. For those of us who care, Chicago dogs are an obsession. Done right, they’re a perfect symphony — soft poppy seed bun, snappy wiener, crunchy pickles and hot sport peppers, just the right amount of celery salt, the kick of mustard, the brightness of tomato and onion. Done wrong, they’re a mess — soggy, or overly salty, or wilted and sorry-tasting, or all three. Prairie Dogs makes a Chicago dog as good as, or even better than, the best we’ve had around here (that would be the Wienery or the also excellent Uncle Franky’s).

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

While the Prairie Dog is a great execution of a classic concept, The Seoul Dog ($6) is a work of genius: we’ve had kimchi on a lot of dogs and sausages over the years, and it is generally some combination of too hot, too wet, and too funkily distracting to be a true team player. The kimchi that Prairie Dogs uses is mellow and funky, on even footing with the shoyu mustard, chives, cilantro, hot dog, and bun, making for a harmonious orchestral blast of flavor.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Bread and butter fried pickles with ranch ($4) could easily have been sad, sodden, turgid little disasters. Instead, they were light, rich, crispy, beautifully flavored disks of joy. We felt honored to have them at our table, until — all too quickly — they were gone.

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

We’ve had two noteworthy milkshakes this year: one at Ike’s (at the airport) and one at Prairie Dogs ($5). Both were rich and profoundly chocolatey, and both compelled consumption at hazardous speeds and quantities. Both — and this is unlikely to be a coincidence — used ice cream from Sebastian Joe’s. (Only one, it should be noted, included a complimentary mini-donut and sprinkles, so the overall win goes to Prairie Dogs.)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The menu’s “Between the Buns” section lets the diner pick out a chicken breast or beef patty and accessorize from there. We tried The Hog (pork belly, hoisin glaze, pickled carrots and radish, cilantro, sriracha aioli) augmentation of a chicken breast ($10) and were promptly wowed by one of the tastiest sandwiches we’ve had over the past few years. The sweet-tart kick of hoisin brought the flavors of the sandwich together without crushing either the taste of chicken or the slightly crunchy, deeply pork-inflected joyfulness of the properly cooked pork belly, and the aioli contributed a bit of creamy heat without swamping its comrades.

At the core of everything are the dogs and sausages. Without fail, we found them to be rich, texturally correct (nice snappy casings, firm but yielding interiors), and balanced from a flavor perspective. These are strong bricks from which to build a welcoming house.

In case you haven’t picked up on it, there’s a theme to the food at Prairie Dogs: balance and harmony. In a realm where every dish lives and dies based on subtle proportions, Prairie Dogs is king — everything has been carefully calculated thanks to a year plus of pop-up dinners before the doors officially opened. Don’t be deceived by the “simplicity” of its dishes. Hard work and deep thought went into this menu, and you can taste it in every bite.

John Garland contributed to this review.

Prairie Dogs
Hot dog and sausage place at Lyn-Lake
Rating: ★★★½ (excellent)

610 W Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN
612.223.8984
HOURS:
Sun-Thu: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri-Sat: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
PARKING: Street, somewhat limited
RESERVATIONS/RECOMMENDED: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
OWNERS: Tobie Nidetz / Craig Johnson
BAR: None (application in process)
ENTREE RANGE: $4.50-10

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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4 Comments

  1. I find this review hard to believe. They have the worst hot dogs and sausages I have ever had the displeasure of tasting. They are luke warm, mushy, and flavorless. They don’t have buns, rather split slices of bread. Granted they are toasted which is nice, but that doesn’t make up for the mushy (and I mean like mash potatoes) hot dogs. Service is also so-so. They also advertise beer which they do not have. Please use a bit of objectivity when reviewing restaurants otherwise your reviews are pretty much useless.

  2. Author

    Karla: You are factually wrong. The dogs are served on buns; note the photographs and/or reality. Nothing we tried on three visits was luke warm, mushy, or flavorless and we covered a good percentage of the menu. The most favorable assumption I can possibly make about your profoundly incorrect comment is that you’re confusing Prairie Dogs with another restaurant.

  3. Great review, the only problem is I wish you would have reviewed more of the dogs so people know how great they are. When I went I got the Sonoran and All-American. Both were awesome and I would gladly order again. Also tried the fries, which were excellent and some of the best fries I have had in a while.

    Karla: please listen to Mr. Norton. You have to be mistaken about the restaurant you are referring to as none of what you said is true about Prairie Dogs.

  4. My husband and I ate here two weeks ago when they first opened and we loved it. We are both sausage and hot dog people and felt the options were great. Tobie has a great history in Minneapolis and I am glad to see him back in a local restaurant. He and the staff couldn’t have been nicer and were open to questions about the menu and offerings. The fried pickles and sauce are the best. Haven’t had any this good since Town Talk Diner’s. As someone who doesn’t drink beer the bartender introduced me to several of their non-alcoholic offerings. I’m hoping this restaurant does well and we will be back.

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