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Between the Buns

We fall in puppy love with Tucson's newest hot dog joint

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Let's get one thing straight off of the bat: I love hot dogs.

Growing up, they were the highlight of my local spring training games (though God knows that there was nothing else interesting about watching the Mariners and/or Padres during much of that time); I have a tendency to buy a QuikTrip dog when I drive between Phoenix and Tucson; and there are a few hot dog vendors along Fourth Avenue who know me by face, if not by name.

So when the opportunity arose to take a look at Mutts Premium Hot Dogs and Sausages, a new hot dog-focused restaurant in town, I may have tripped over my keyboard in answering.

Spoiler alert: My excitement was rewarded.

Tucked away into a corner of Main Gate Square's Geronimo Plaza in the former location of Joel's Bistro, one might think Mutts' awkward location as a detriment to their business; to their credit, they counter that with some aggressive signage. They've set up a prominent sandwich board on the sidewalk of University Boulevard, announcing their presence. Getting closer, I counted at least three more Mutts signs, some advertising specials and their menu, and all of which said, "Hey, we're over here!"

They're making good use of their space too; while the inner dining area is a bit sparse (though of course decked out with UA red and blue), the outside seating happily took advantage of Tucson's beautiful winter weather. All of their tables were filled up, and the owners were happily interacting with customers (and even showing off their products, made with Usinger's Famous Sausage of Wisconsin).

Of course, that'd all be just pleasantries if the food was bad—and Mutts makes a pretty damn good hot dog.

In an effort to separate themselves from the pack of your average sausage slinger, Mutts' menu features the usual staples (Chicago dogs, Polish sausages, chili dogs) alongside dogs topped more esoterically (Buffalo sauce? Strawberry jam? Tzatziki?) and, of course, the Sonoran-style hot dog.

In keeping with their lineup, I decided to split the difference between the standard and the unusual ... and (spoiler alert) I didn't find a bad dog in the bunch.

The Polish Sausage, topped with caramelized onions, sport peppers and yellow mustard, featured a characteristically tough casing, which when combined with the peppers and the onions, provided a nice crunch. The peppers also appeared to be tossed onto the grill, and had just enough spice to be noticeable without overpowering everything else; and true to their website, the mustard was slathered on. I happen to be a devotee of spicy brown mustard (the bottle sitting on my desk attests to that) but any more spice would've just confused matters on what's an otherwise good, simple dog.

The Snoring Dog (their Sonoran-style effort) was, probably my least favorite of the bunch. It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with it, but something just seemed to be missing in the mountain of ingredients; the queso fresco, guacamole, salsa, beans, onions, mustard and mayo definitely obscured the bacon-wrapped hot dog beneath it all. Plus, refried beans just seem weird on a Sonoran dog—granted, the bun would've crumbled under the added weight of pinto beans, but such is life. It didn't help that there were no tomatoes to be found, either. The bacon was nice and smoky though, for what it's worth.

The Chicken Andouille Sausage was a nice surprise, stuffed with red beans and rice, and topped with both cream cheese and a sweet and spicy pepper jelly; the sausage had a good, smoky flavor to it as well, but it's less of a sausage that I would purchase on multiple visits, and more of a curiosity that was pleasantly satisfied. The cream cheese and pepper jelly balanced each other nicely though.

And in keeping with the theme, the most unusual dog I picked from the menu turned out to be pretty pleasant. The Sweet Dog, numerically, turned out to be the most simple of the bunch: hot dog, toasted bun, melted Swiss cheese and strawberry jam. The Swiss is mild enough to sit back and let the jam do most of the flavor work, as the strawberry sweetness counters the saltiness of the meat. Like the Chicken Andouille Sausage, it's a curiosity, but it's one that I'm personally liable to pick up again in the future. Prices run between $3 to $7 per item, with specials running often; you can check out the Mutts Facebook (facebook.com/muttshotdogs) page to get an idea of what they're running, as they update it frequently. For those wondering, Mutts also has an all-day breakfast menu, undoubtedly to pick up any students who are looking to get a decent meal close to campus.

All in all, Mutts is a fine addition to Main Gate Square, offering quality food to sausage enthusiasts from across the Old Pueblo, especially for those who are adventurous enough to try the weirder things on the menu.

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