Twin Cities wurst worshippers have a new joint to add to their must-visit list for summer 2014. Prairie Dogs, to be located in Uptown, plans to combine the best of the Chicago-style hot dog eatery with that of a butcher shop market, using locally-sourced ingredients to make house-made encased meats and charcuterie.
Serving sausages prepared for sit-down customers as well as offering a stocked butcher case for home cooks, Prairie Dogs will be cranking out house-made sausages like bratwurst, merguez, chorizo, Polish sausage, and hot dogs using locally-sourced meats from producers like Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farm. They’ll also feature local beer, sustainably produced wine, seasonal produce, and locally sourced buns (Johnson’s still on a quest to find the perfect locally made sausage bun).
Johnson grew up in Maple Plain, MN, but he first learned the craft of sausage-making while attending the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. He honed his sausage-making skills back in Minnesota at joints like Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen, Spill the Wine, and most recently at Ike’s in downtown Minneapolis. He was approached by Minneapolis restaurant consultant Tobie Nidetz about the Prairie Dog concept, and the two formed a partnership as co-owners of the new venture.
Photo by Todd Billings, Square Footage Productions
“Experimenting with different levels of meat grinds and fat content helps me figure out my own recipes. I’ve been picking butchers brains!” said Johnson, who is a regular customer at many of the local sausage-making shops in town like Clancey’s and Everett’s, and is heading to Chicago soon for a whirlwind tour of well-known sausage establishments like Hot Doug’s, Devil Dawgs, and Franks N’ Dawgs.
Johnson says customer input in vital, so he’s been serving sausages at events and holding pop-ups at restaurants such as First Course Bistro, Birch’s in Long Lake, Monies Bar in his hometown of Maple Plain, and The Zumbro Café. These events have allowed Johnson to identify recipes that are hits, like the popular, mildly spicy merguez lamb sausage that he tops with light mint aioli, piquillo peppers, and feta cheese. His “Tickle me Chelmo” emerged as a favorite at the Zumbro popup—it’s a chorizo link topped with breakfast potato hash, lime crema, salsa verde, and a sunny egg. The Seoul Dog has been a crowd-pleasing hot dog topped with house made kimchi, marinated carrots, and shoyu mustard. As for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free folks, Prairie Dogs intends to offer house made, build-your-own vegan dogs, gluten-free rolls, and even a lettuce wrap dog.
Aiming for an opening date of May 2014, Prairie Dogs will be located in Uptown, near Lake Street/Hennepin. They plan to offer lunch, dinner, late night dining, a butcher case for home cooks, and have delivery by bicycle to the Uptown area, to boot.
If you simply can’t wait until May to sample Prairie Dog’s sausages, stop by Ike’s downtown over the next two weeks, where Johnson’s smoked Polish sausage will be a featured menu item, or watch their Facebook page for future pop-up events.
Prairie Dogs currently has a Kickstarter campaign going on to help to reduce investor costs, cover the cost of furnishing the restaurant, and cover labor costs and training. Check out a video about the Prairie Dog concept and their kickstarter: