It’s 7pm on a Monday. Big Trouble, the red-lit Chinese American bar on a grimy Chinatown block is packed with people. The jilted Chefstable project has never been this busy, ever. The crowds are courtesy of Stray Dogs PDX, a new pop up from major New York chefs Peter Cho (The Breslin) and Johnny Leach (Momofuku Ko, Clyde Common) whose sole purpose is “hot dogs, good whiskey, and cheap beer.” It’s a modest ambition, but the two chefs pull it off well, serving some of the best junk food in recent memory.
Mini Dogs Galore
Cho and Leach are cooking what they like to eat: chiefly, “small-format” dogs about half the size of a ballpark frank. The flavors are universally appealing, from a chicken parm version with pork fat sausage, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and tiny basil leaves to shrimp sausage with tartar sauce and Old Bay-dusted shoestring fries. An early favorite is the “Chili Con Corn Dog,” a mahogany, deep-fried shell containing spicy, rich chili, dunked in cool cilantro cream.
The dogs are good; the sides are great. Something called Nori Potato Salad ($3) recently made its way onto the menu, sporting pickled mustard seeds, togarashi, and nori (dried seaweed) confetti. It’s creamy, salty, and spicy, with brininess akin to bottarga fish roe.
The pièce de résistance is Stray Dog’s “Fun-Yums” (Funyons meets Cool Ranch Doritos): thin curls of fried onion, covered in vinegar and ranch dust. It’s a demented, addictive snack that goes beyond gimmick into junk food genius.
Expert Ice Cream
As an added bonus, Little Bird’s pastry chef, Helen Jo (who is married to Leach), has been whipping up creative ice cream flavors to match the Stray Dogs profile. So far, we’ve seen a buttery, popcorn-topped scoop, and a refreshing, tart, pomegranate-lemonade flavor.
Flavors and themes are constantly in flux. Already, Cho and Leach have two new prototypes: beef and wakame with pickled cucumbers, and a Korean pork dog. Cho hints at more pop-up dinners in the near future. In the meantime, you can get a taste this New Year’s Eve at Northeast Portland’s Expatriate from 5 – 10 pm (tickets required).