I reviewed Kalamazoo downtown lunch spot Dogs With Style a couple years ago, but it’s recently come under new management, and the changes are significant enough to warrant another review. The ladies who run the place are taking it to the next level. They still have the usual standbys, like Coney, Polish and Chicago dogs, and they’re all good. But the real draw of Dogs With Style 2.0 is the visionary new hot dogs they have.

The one on the left is the Mad Max, and the one on the right is the Guatemalan. Say hello, boys.

The one on the left is the Mad Max, and the one on the right is the Guatemalan. Say hello, boys.

The two I’m reviewing, the Mad Max and the Guatemalan, are like edible works of art. The Guatemalan is similar to a Chicago, in that it features a number of vegetables accompanying the frank. The Guatemalan includes cabbage, avocado, tomato, and a couple different salsas and sauces. There are a lot of flavors at work here, and they all harmonize wonderfully. It’s a bit spicy, but the avocado helps to cool it down. It’s a great example of the kinds of interesting things you can do with hot dogs if you have a solid imagination and palette.

But on to the main event. The Mad Max is an evolution of the Swanky Franky, a fabled hot dog concept involving cheese and bacon my parents told me about as a child. I never imagined I’d see one in a restaurant in my lifetime. The Mad Max starts with a hot dog frank, split and filled with pepper jack cheese and then wrapped in bacon and cooked. It improves upon the Swanky Franky here though, by topping it with macaroni and cheese and sriracha and serving it on a pretzel bun. It’s a decadent delight. The central frank is delicious and well-crafted. I’ve never had a problem with cheese leakage or bacon falling off. The mac and cheese uses think bow-tie pasta and is dry enough that it works as a topping without making the whole thing soggy. You haven’t had the true Dogs With Style experience until you’ve had the Mad Max.

Just because I've waxed poetic about their specialty hot dogs doesn't mean their regular fare isn't great, as these Chicago and Coney dogs prove.

Just because I’ve waxed poetic about their specialty hot dogs doesn’t mean their regular fare isn’t great, as these Chicago and Coney dogs prove.

The new Dogs With Style is even better than before, and definitely worth checking out. Most dogs range from between $2-4, well worth the trip. As far as I know, they’re still cash only at this point, so keep that in mind. They’ve also expanded the previous hours, so they’re not only open for lunch (11AM-3PM) but for late night snacks from 10PM-2AM Monday Wednesday and Friday nights.

Growing up in Ann Arbor, I’ve walked past the Red Hawk Grill countless times. I actually get my hair cut around the block, so I’ve spent literal years walking past it. But it wasn’t until a recent recommendation by a friend that I decided to actually head in and give it a shot. And boy, am I ever glad I did. The Red Hawk Grill serves most bar & grill standards (burger, steaks, some seafood and pasta), but with a modern, inventive twist. A number of their offerings include Asian or Southwestern elements, and while I wouldn’t quite call it “fusion cuisine” (the atmosphere isn’t nearly austere enough for that moniker, for one thing), they have a number of clever, clearly carefully planned sandwiches and burgers. While I’d normally start with a basic hamburger of chicken club sandwich, the Peanut-Crusted Shrimp Burger caught my eye. A burger made of shrimp!! Could it be?

I know it sounds crazy, but just go with me here for a minute.

I know it sounds crazy, but just go with me here for a minute.

I wasn’t disappointed. My key concern, the amount and quality of the shrimp, was perfect. The core of the burger was a large patty made of shrimp meat, with a thin, subtle crust of chopped peanuts. The meat was high-quality, not scrapped together from cocktail shrimps as I had feared. It also had a nice, full texture, and was firm enough to hold together as I ate it. It came topped with a chile mayonnaise and a sweet and sour cucumber relish, which were tangy and flavorful, but still toned down enough for the shrimp to shine. I’ll need to head back soon to see how they do with actual ground beef and chicken breasts, but this burger pulled off something I previously would’ve called impossible.

Burgers and sandwiches at Red Hawk generally go for $8-9, with an extra $2 for fries. This burger, at least, is a steal at that price. Next time you’re on State Street near Liberty, I’d definitely recommend checking it out. I can’t wait until I’m there again to try something else new, this was a first impression that did not disappoint.

Sliders Burgers and Belgian Fries is recent addition to a strip mall just outside of Western Michigan University’s campus in Kalamazoo. It’s apparently the second store the company has opened, with the other also in a college town. Sliders is part of a growing trend of “classic” burger joints with a cleaner, healthier environment, like The Real Deal or Five Guys. What sets them apart, obviously, is their focus on smaller slider burgers. I posted some thoughts on the merit of sliders back in the stone age. Let’s see if my feelings toward them have changed!

What is the impossible secret of this rainbow of tiny cups of sauces? Read on, true believer!!

What is the impossible secret of this rainbow of tiny cups of sauces? Read on, true believer!!

The sliders here are actually larger than I expected. A slider combo comes with two of them, dressed with a selection of free toppings like lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and Ketchup. Cheeses, bacon and Jalapenos can be added for an extra fee. I decided on pickles and caramelized onions, which came together pretty well. The sliders were well-made, generous in size for smaller sandwiches but not so large as to be filling by themselves.They were good, but a little monotonous.

Sliders also prides themselves on their Belgian Fries, a kind of double fried steak fries served with course-grain salt. I know that fries are a little outside this blog’s purview, but go with me on this. The fries themselves are fine, but the real draw is that Sliders has a wide selection of dipping sauces to try, with special rotating menus. This is literally the restaurant idea I came up with as a kid and have always dreamed of. I’d be mad that someone stole my dream, but realistically I was never going to do it, and at least now people can enjoy it. The sauces are great, especially a Rosemary Garlic sauce that tastes almost Middle Eastern and a sweet, spicy barbeque sauce reminiscent of McDonald’s BBQ sauce in the early 90’s. (I realize this last sentence is probably the most stupidly pretentious thing I’ve ever written, but I have very specific memories of what BBQ sauce tasted like a Mickey D’s when I was six.) Anyway, the point is that adding these sauces to the sliders really helps to set them apart and kick them up a notch. I’d highly recommend doing so.

I only had one other issue. It’s not the kind of thing I go into very often in these reviews, but I felt like the service was a little lackluster. It took about 12-15 minutes for me to receive my two small burgers and side order of fries. There were a couple other orders being made at the same time, but there were also four people in the kitchen. When my meal arrived, the employee didn’t apologize for the delay. I’m not one of those assholes who demands everything be perfect, but the problem is that I don’t think that 15 minutes is an excessively long wait there. That really throws a wrench in the kind of recommendation I can give a fast food restaurant.

Overall, Sliders was good, but not great. There were some definite highlights, and I’m planning on going back to see if my wait time was an isolated incident, but it’s not one I would put on my short list. Still, if you like sliders, or you want to see one of my childhood fantasies come to life, it’s worth checking out, at least once.

Just Good Food is a deli and catering kitchen in the basement of the Rose St. Market Building in downtown Kalamazoo. A friend of mine suggested it as a place to get good sandwiches, and he nailed it. JGF offers a lot of salads, salsas, and vegetarian/vegan options, as well as traditional deli fare like Reubens.  It’s a lot like Zingerman’s, only without the brand identity and subsequent overpricing. For this review, I’ll be sticking to two of their salad sandwiches, the Salvadorean Chicken Salad and the Tuna Tango.

The Salvadorean Chicken Salad sandwich. You know, before Instagram, I was the only person taking pictures of my food with my phone. Now, everyone does it. It’s a really weird thing to feel slightly jealous about.

The Tuna Tango (not pictured) is their tuna salad, available either cold with lettuce and tomato or as a melt with provolone cheese. I’ve always had it warmed up. JGF makes the best tuna salad in Kalamazoo, because they’re not afraid to deviate from the norm a little bit. In addition to tuna and mayo, their salad has hard-boiled eggs, sliced dill pickles, capers, and onions. It’s kind of a mix of a couple of different things, and it comes together beautifully. It’s a hearty, filling sandwich, helped along by the generous size they serve you.

The Salvadorean Chicken Salad includes onions, peppers and carrots diced in, and is served warm with lettuce and tomato. Both times I’ve ordered it JGF has been out of pitas, so it’s been served as a wrap, which is fine by me. The salad itself is great. The ingredients are all pretty fresh, and the lack of mayo or another dressing makes for a nice change of pace. I always appreciate leaf lettuce over shredded, and the tomatoes are diced small enough to be manageable as well. Another filling sandwich, and another great buy.

Sandwiches at Just Good Food run for between $6-9 for a full order, which includes tortilla chips. I occasionally order other sides on top of that, but it’s only to try their other items, since the sandwiches are plenty filling. It’s a great lunch spot, and if you’re ever in downtown Kalamazoo, you should definitely check it out.

I haven’t yet reviewed Taco Bob’s, a Kalamazoo mainstay, primarily because I would usually eat there during work at my internship, which kept me pretty busy. But Taco Bob’s is an important part of the Kalamazoo area foodscape, because it’s quick, tasty and features friendly service. As for what the food is like, I can sum it up in one sentence:

Taco Bob’s is exactly like Taco Bell, if Taco Bell was awesome instead of mediocre.

Like Taco Bell, Taco Bob’s offers a number of rather Americanized takes on tacos, burritos, enchiladas and the like. And like Taco Bell, the food is prepped while you wait, more like fast food than a sit-down restaurant. However, Taco Bob’s features fresh vegetables and higher quality meats than the average fast food fare. It’s prepared when you walk in, with an eye for customer service and satisfaction. And its locally owned, which is always a plus.

“Comedy duo Cheesy Taco and Funny Taco reunite in… Road to Deliciousness!!”

My usuals are the Funny Taco and the Cheesy Taco, which are kind of analogous to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch and maybe a Cheesy Double Beef Burrito (but smaller) respectively. It’s weird, because there’s really not a whole lot to say about them, that I haven’t said. Just imagine Taco Bell, then imagine not having to hate yourself afterwards.

Taco Bob’s runs slightly pricier than Taco Bell, since they don’t have a dollar menu. Combos run for about $6-8. Still, if you’re interested in some quick Mexican food, Taco Bob’s is more than worth the extra change. Taco Bob’s has a couple of locations in and around Kalamazoo, check them out!!

The newspaper I write for, The Kalamazoo Gazette, was part of an ongoing project last week by reporters throughout the state to find the best Coney dog in Michigan.  As a sandwich aficionado, I’m all for this.  A lot of people don’t realize that Coney Island hot dogs originated in Michigan, rather than New York.  Throwing chili, onions and mustard on a hot dog is one of the best things you can do with it (in my humble but correct opinion), and there are places throughout the state which do a great job.

A Polish and Chicago dog from Dogs with Style. I've tried (and enjoyed) their Coney as well, I'll probably be posting a review soon.

The full archive is available here.  I’ve also included a link to my thoughts on some of the non-Coney offerings at Dogs with Style, one of the Kalamazoo spots the team visited.

I’ve been on kind of a hot dog/sausage kick recently, but this post is special. The Wurst Bar is a relatively new addition to Ypsilanti, Michigan, and came highly recommended to me from a friend of mine.  It’s a pretty standard college bar, drinks-wise, but what separates it from the rest (and gives it its name) are the numerous bratwursts they prepare on site and serve.    Their bratwursts range from classic style to some interesting variations, namely rattlesnake.  You better believe I’m not gonna pass that up.

I hate snakes, Jacque!! I hate 'em!!

I opened with the Rattlesnake Chorizo.  In addition to the snake meat, it had (primarily, I believe) pork, chipotle, oregano and red wine.  I had it on a pretzel bun topped with sauteed onions and sweet peppers.  It was surprisingly delicious.  I don’t know if I could tell you specifically what rattlesnake tastes like, but the brat had a full flavor, and the chipotle gave it a heat which I feel is appropriate to eating the meat of a venomous animal.  The toppings went well with it, and the saltiness of the bun helped offset some of the spiciness.  I’d definitely recommend this one.

I followed it up with the PBR Poached Bratwurst, which is one of their standard brats.  This was kind of a mistake on my part.  While there was nothing wrong with it, it couldn’t really compete with the chorizo from a novelty perspective.  The bratwurst included majoram, ginger, celery seed, and coriander along with the pork.  It was a solid, tasty brat, but it didn’t have the hook that some of the more unusual fare did.

I’d definitely recommend checking out The Wurst Bar for some bratwursts I can’t imagine you’ll find anywhere else.  They offer brats made from bison and lamb, as well as alligator (although if I remember from New Orleans, alligator basically tastes like chicken, but with a texture more similar to fish).  The regular brats are $5.75 and the more whimsical are $7 a la carte, so it’s not the kind of place I’d go every day.  Still, if you’re in the area and looking for something decidedly different, stop by.