The scene right around the corner from the intersection of 15th and Umatilla streets has been the same just about every summer; people stopping by one or two at a time and exchanging money for tidy packages bearing unknown contents. This year is no different, as warm weather ushers in another round of discreet sales out the side door of the Truffle Table.
It's not such a big secret, though, as long as you're adept at searching social media. Those packages changing hands are hot dogs, and they're coming from a new side gig aptly called Fancy Hot Dogs, launched just a few days ago by Karin and Rob Lawler, owners of the Truffle Table. In past years, the Lawlers have let other vendors peddle food out the Dutch door set into the brick wall of the triangular building, including Tifamade Cantine, Ohana Island Kitchen (which went on to open a full eatery across the street) and Gorgeous Deli — but this year, things have changed.
"This isn't about making money anymore," Karin explains. "It's about making friends and staying open no matter what, in a safe and responsible way. We just needed to do this to keep from going crazy."
You may think the Lawlers have already gone slightly bonkers when you see their signature creation, the Fancy Dog, complete with mayo, cilantro and peanut butter miso. But tasting the result reveals the method behind the madness; the creation has just the right balance of salty, tangy and umami that every good frankfurter possesses. "Our two boys are twelve and ten, and we eat a lot of hot dogs at home," Karin explains. "This was something they came up with with Rob."
But hot dog purists will also find plenty to love — starting with the Nathan's all-beef dogs — in the Coney Dog, dressed in chili, cheese, onions and mustard; the Chicago Dog, complete with neon-green mustard and sport peppers; and the Green Chile Dog, bathed in homemade green chile and shredded cheese. Other house specialties come topped with goat cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut, "and other things we are already using at the Truffle Table," the owner notes.
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While hot dog lunches will bring in a little extra income, Karin says that offering something a little different is a way to keep the community happy and stay relevant to their needs. And since Fancy Hot Dogs is being operated under the Truffle Table umbrella, they can also sell alcohol. Shortly after switching to takeout-only, the Truffle Table began offering half-priced wines and five-ounce cocktails in Mason jars to go, so you can get a drink when you order your hot dogs. "Rob and I are pretty flexible people, and we try to plan and think on our feet quickly," she adds.
While new directives for restaurants have been slow in coming from the city, Karin says that she and Rob, like many other restaurant owners, are expecting to open at about half capacity, so they've already begun shifting tables and removing a few chairs to offer guests plenty of space. But she doesn't expect business to be back to normal any time soon. "We plan on reopening with a small wine dinner," she explains. "As soon as we get the word, we'll plan a twenty-seat, five-course wine dinner to give everyone a chance to reconnect."
The wine dinners are likely to be the primary service method in the coming weeks, since the Lawlers don't want to encourage bar-hopping or crowded happy hours.
But until the city gives the go-ahead for restaurants to reopen, you can get Fancy Hot Dogs from 11 to 2 p.m. and Truffle Table's to-go menu from 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Call 303-455-9463 to order ahead; walk-ups are also welcome at the side door for hot dogs as long as social distancing is observed.