The scene: At first glance, there is nothing “gourmet” looking about Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs. But looks can be deceiving, and in this, case, they are.
The restaurant is located in Lower Downtown Denver, better known as LoDo, an amazing comeback story of urban revival largely driven by the construction of Coors Field and the later restoration of Union Station into a wildly popular hotel/bar/food court/gathering place. Both are close to the eatery, along with several new hotels, museums and tourist attractions. Biker Jim’s has a garage aesthetic, complete with an actual garage door in the front wall, high industrial ceilings, a brick interior wall covered with the eatery’s graffiti-style skull and crossed-hot dog logo, and a concrete floor. The majority of the seating is at basic wooden tables and elevated rails in the front half, and there’s not a whole lot more to the décor other than few flat screen TVs, a self-serve condiment station, stuffed Jackalope head, and a lot of Johnny Cash playing in the background.
“Biker” Jim Pittenger grew up in Alaska and is indeed a motorcycle enthusiast as the restaurant’s name suggests. He previously worked in Denver as car repo man, as the look of his place suggests (he says he repossessed around 1200 cars in his career). After a vacation trip back to Alaska he was inspired by meeting up with an old friend who had become Anchorage’s beloved hot dog guy, and brought the concept back to Denver, initially in the form of a cart in that became wildly popular. It took about five years to get to the current brick and mortar establishment, which opened in 2011, though the original cart is still in use at the corner of Arapahoe & 16th, by the popular downtown pedestrianized 16th Street Mall. There are two other carts stationed regularly around the city and two more that roam. There is also a stand in Coors Field open during all Rockies home games.
Reason to visit: Alaskan Reindeer, Wild Boar and Rattlesnake/Pheasant sausage; amazing toppings; fried macaroni & cheese logs
The food: “I knew when I started I wanted to do something a little different from your regular street food,” Pittenger told a video interviewer. That he has done.
When he first launched his cart, it featured a more traditional array of hot dogs, Italian sausage and bratwurst, plus the notable exception of an Alaskan Reindeer sausage. He had grown up on it, loved it, and knew no one else in Denver was doing it. But it quickly became so popular that the Biker Jim’s menu evolved around wild game and today features a laundry list of sausage oddities you’ll rarely see elsewhere including bison, pheasant/rattlesnake (“two great tastes that taste great together” the menu proclaims), wild boar, elk and the like, all available with offbeat toppings. The result is a fascinating array of options that warrant more than one visit. Between the dogs, signature toppings, and self-serve condiments, permutations are almost overwhelming.
You start by choosing a sausage – there are thirteen in all, sometimes more, each priced at $7.50, from a vegan version and classic 100% Certified Angus Beef to German veal and Louisiana Red Hot to the game options. Then there are eight different signature topping “packages” you can add for another $1.50, such as Coney (meaty chili with sliced onion and yellow mustard), Desert (harissa roasted cactus, Malaysian curry jam, scallions, cilantro and onions) and Drunk Pirate (mustard cream sauce made with local craft beer, pickled red onions, and bell peppers). The toppings are as interesting as the dogs, but the problem is that the dogs are bit dry on their own, and the toppings a bit overwhelming, so if you really want to experience the interesting meats, it might be better to dress it yourself from a selection that includes organic ketchup, BBQ sauce, onions, hot peppers, sliced jalapeños and more.
But the toppings are really tasty, so you might just go for it, and my two favorites are the Conspiracy (bleu cheese, bacon, red onion marmalade, lemon aioli and crispy fried onions), and the Biker Jim’s Classic (cream cheese and caramelized onions). My top three sausages were the Pheasant & Rattlesnake combo, which tastes like a hybrid between poultry and pork, the best of two white meats, just a tiny bit gamey (in a good way) and tiny bit peppery, a really unique and interesting flavor; the Wild Boar, very pork-like but also flavored with apricots and cranberries, adding a perfect balance of sweet fruitiness; and the signature Alaskan Reindeer, which is in the kielbasa family with an Eastern European sausage flavor profile. The classic beef hot dog wrapped in bacon is one of the simplest options here, but also really good.
The offbeat menu and well-thought out flavor combinations are the wow factor here, but the real success comes from the underlying quality. Biker Jim’s sources its specialty meats from sustainable farms that use antibiotic and hormone free ranching practices, has its sausages custom made by artisanal producers, and the fresh baked rolls are large enough to handle the big links and toppings and steamed just a tad so they are warm but not mushy, perfect. Even the little things like the pickle spears and BBQ sauce on the condiment bar are standouts. The only thing that didn’t wow me was the fries, better than average but not on par with the excellence of the rest of the food, so for a side, consider the deliciously decadent fried mac & cheese logs instead.
It’s fun, it wildly different, and the food is great, so there is a lot to like about Biker Jim’s. It’s also very reasonably priced, and domestic beers such as PBR start at just two bucks – less than draught of the fancy Boylan’s soda, though they also have a more extensive list of craft beers and cocktails.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes, for hot dog and sausage lovers eager to try something radically different.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: 2148 Larimer Street, Denver; 720-746-9355; also in Coors Field, and carts on the 16th Street Mall, Tivoli Commons and Buckley Air Force base, plus two roaming the streets; http://www.bikerjimsdogs.com/
Larry Olmsted has attended cooking classes in Italy, judged a barbecue contest and once dined with Julia Child. Follow him on Twitter, @TravelFoodGuy, and if there’s a unique American eatery you think he should visit, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the venues reviewed by this column provided complimentary services.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2NoCkqN