Bernie's brings hot dog heaven to Highlands Ranch

With any luck, the addition of Bernie's Hot Dog Co., an independent joint located at 1601 Mayberry in the Highlands Ranch Town Center, will convince all those Land Rover-owning suburbanites who reside within the chain-ganged sprawl to stop spending their bonuses at Chili's and Outback Steakhouse.

I saw glimmers of hope when I hopped in line at Bernie's over the weekend. In fact, the woman behind me -- young, model-skinny and toting two kids and a husband -- made one of the boldest restaurant predictions I've heard all year: "Before you know it, Bernie's is going to expand like crazy, and I bet it'll even open in LoDo!"

In other words, screw the economy.

For the time being, however, married owners Joe and Su Zemla seem perfectly happy in Highlands Ranch, where they've been turning out dogs (foot-longs, turkey, mini corn and average-size Bernie dogs) and sausages (Polish, German, Italian, and sundried tomato and pesto chicken sausages) for old-timers and toddlers -- and every generation in between -- since opening in December.

Also on board: Fifty toppings and condiments -- everything from bacon, guacamole and red and green chile to baked beans, Sriracha sauce and braised sauerkraut -- plus French fries, onions rings and salads.

"There were no good hot dogs around here," declared Su when I got her on the phone this morning. "My husband and I joked about the idea of opening a hot dog place for quite a while, talked to our friends about it and decided to go for it. I have a culinary background and Joe worked in arenas and stadiums in Phoenix, L.A. and Denver."

The Zemlas get their dogs from Alexander and Hornung, a company based in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, just outside Detroit. "They taste great, have a really great snap and they stand up well," explained Su.

She's right about the snap. I sampled a Colfax dog topped with diced tomatoes, cheddar and green chile, and while the green chile was tepid and underseasoned, the tight skin popped with every bite.

The space pops, too, its long and narrow dining room painted lime and cherry, the walls strewn with heart-tugging black-and-white shots of abandoned dogs photographed at the Denver Dumb Friends League.

"Initially we wanted to change the photographs out, but we would have had to change them all the time, so we're sticking with the ones we have. Evenutally, we'd like to have dog adoptions in front of the restaurant," said Su.

"You know, we're all about dogs, dogs, dogs."

Bernie's is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For all the hot-diggity-dog-diggity details, visit www.bernieshotdogs.com.

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