The month of August occupies a special place in the local foodie’s um, gullet; not only because summer produce is at its height, but also because it’s State Fair season—i.e., stuff-your-face-with-fun-food season. The iconic “fun food” being, of course, some kind of hot dog, brat or sausage. The wild appeal of the dog/brat/sausage makes sense: As a culture we are obsessed with both portability and customization, and encased meats have those in spades. The popularity is universal: You can almost always count on a hot dog of some sort in your corner of the planet, airport, beach, ballgame or lately, fancy restaurant. Need more evidence that the sausage is king? The convenience store 7-Eleven sells about 100 million dogs a year. “Hot dog!” is an old-fashioned exclamation of untrammeled joy, but perhaps Humphrey Bogart said it best, “a hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.”
Wild Rice and Asiago Bratwurst
Hey, buy some fresh ones and grill ’em yourself. Kowalski’s, our homegrown supermarket, makes sausages in-house, and they’re amazing. Of course, you’ll find traditional bratwurst here too, but exercise your state pride and get the smoked, uncured wild rice and Asiago—wild rice being every Minnesotan’s birthright. This sausage is an inspired invention: high-quality beef, mild and nutty wild rice, and sharp Asiago cheese, which is sort of like parmesan but it’s made from sheep’s milk and special in its own right; a salty funk that puts the “awe” in sausage. $6.99 a pound. 4391 Lake Ave. S., White Bear Lake; 651.429.5913.
Although the main focus of this eatery is obviously the burger, it’s got some killer dogs too. Take the Chicago dog, a righteous emblem of the Windy City that comes with a strict set of rules, the most important being no ketchup allowed. The condimentroversy gets hot in Minnesota territory, because ketchup is just so dang yummy! This quarter-pound all-beef hot dog comes with grilled peppers and onions; perfect just like that, although a squirt of yellow mustard adds a welcome zip. $4.99. 961 Wildwood Road, White Bear Lake; 651.777.7751.
No question here: you have to get the bratwurst platter; we promise that you will not regret it. Germans are famous for their knack with sausage, and this dish illustrates why. The platter holds one bratwurst (smoked beef sausage with mild garlic), and one mettwurst (spicy smoked beef sausage with white pepper and mustard seed). We had a hard time deciding which we preferred; the spice of the mettwurst was mild, i.e., Minnesota-friendly, but intriguing nonetheless. The sausages are served as tradition dictates, with tart sauerkraut and German potato salad, a warm, mayo-free mélange of sturdy steamed ’taters. $14.99. 2670 East County Road E, White Bear Lake; 651.773.5854.
Miss Piggy's Nightmare
What a beautiful mouthful this is: Kudos to Miss Piggy! Where there’s pork, there’s more pork, and this pork jubilee is a beauty: a hot dog topped with pulled pork and bacon. It’s smoky, all right, and a little bit crunchy, a good bit greasy and every bit irresistible. You will hardly notice the bun, which means it’s doing its job—soaking it up and holding it together on the short journey from plate to maw. $6.95. 4441 S. Lake Ave., White Bear Lake; 651.429.2633.
We adore kielbasa, the juicy garlicky Polish sausage. Cobblestone uses kielbasa in a breakfast dish of diced potatoes, red onion and two eggs. Eggs are served any style, but we like ’em over easy so the runny yolks mix with the starchy potatoes and pungent sausage for something else altogether—a fantastic morass of salty, smoky and meaty. $8.25. 4760 Washington Square, White Bear Lake; 651.429.6793.
Italian Sausage Sandwich
The sausage sandwich is pretty iconic in its own right, and where better to eat one than at Donatelli’s? Their sandwich, on sturdy Italian bread, is open-faced to reveal slices of homemade, well-spiced Italian sausage smothered with the restaurant’s classic red sauce and blanketed with lotsa melted mozzarella. You really want a whole one? Of course you do. Save half for later, if you must. Half $6.99, whole, $10.99. 2692 East County Road E, White Bear Lake; 651.777.9199.