Carla Meyer

Killer condiments make Arlington Brothers’ hot dogs best in show

Arlington Brothers turns to sausages to find food-cart niche

Choosing between tamales and hot dogs, Jason Cotter and his partner decided that the road to gastronomic success would be paved with sausages. Arlington Brothers uses locally sourced sausages and makes its own condiments in an effort to set itsel
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Choosing between tamales and hot dogs, Jason Cotter and his partner decided that the road to gastronomic success would be paved with sausages. Arlington Brothers uses locally sourced sausages and makes its own condiments in an effort to set itsel

The Arlington Brothers sausage and hot dog cart is easy to miss. It’s a 4-by-8-feet stainless-steel trailer unadorned by the bold signage common to food trucks. It easily fades into the industrial settings of the local breweries outside of which it parks.

But once you’ve tried it, Arlington Brothers stands out, a silver bullet in a sea of blacktop that delivers juicy, plump sausages sourced from local makers as well as startlingly fresh and flavorful house-made condiments.

Instead of the usual condiment packets, Arlington Brothers serves a ketchup derived from fresh tomatoes whose sugars have been caramelized, molecular-gastronomy style, using a pressure cooker and baking soda.

Arlington operators and restaurant veterans Jason Cotter and Justin Davis – who grew up together on Arlington Circle in Fairfield – grind seeds weekly for a creamy lemon pepper mustard and pickle garlic and mustard seed to go with the sweet pickles in their relish. They also make serrano-chili and spinach-basil aiolis.

Their dogs generally run a not-cheap $6-$12. But the outlay of cash is worth it, for high-quality sausages as weighty as half a pound each, and bread and for condiments made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and often with organic ingredients.

Cotter and Davis add curry, and with it, depth and earthiness, to their caramelized ketchup to create one of the best condiments I ever have tasted. This curry ketchup was a highly welcome development, because part of the reason I wanted to review the cart was the ketchup-ortunity it presented.

Tomatoes are my favorite food item, in all forms, but especially ketchup form. There’s no rival, in the condiment world, to ketchup’s punch of acidity, sweetness and salt. I do not discriminate by brand or type. My refrigerator at all times holds Heinz original as well as various organic, specialty ketchups.

These ketchups wilt next to Arlington Brothers’ curry number, which proved a highly versatile accompaniment to a smoked hot link.

Adding curry to a link visibly dotted by red peppers flake is to lean into heat. But we did this, and added snappy red onion, with Cotter’s approval. We also heeded his suggestion to cool things down with relish.

The resulting dog, cushioned in texture and heat by a fluffy Truckee Sourdough white-bread bun that clung to the meat and absorbed its moisture, approached perfection. The curry ketchup asserted spiciness and sweetness at just the right moments, alternately enhancing and soothing the link’s spiciness.

To accompany this hot-but-not-too-hot treat, we chose a not-too-hoppy Kid Casual Blonde Ale, from Sacramento’s Device Brewing Co., where Arlington Brothers was parked that day. It further rounded out the dog’s flavor.

Cotter and Davis had spent years working in restaurants, Cotter said, before hitching the cart to Cotter’s truck and hitting the road with it in Sacramento three years ago. Davis already owned the cart, from which he once served fusion food in Oregon. When the pair brought it here, they discovered California regulations dictated the cart – built in a style more common to colder climates, with a roof – could only be used to serve hot dogs or tamales.

Cotter and Davis chose to use the cart, which holds a steamer, water system, refrigerator and grill, to serve dogs, and to set themselves apart by making their own condiments.

On our visits to Arlington Brothers – twice at Device, once at Loomis Basin Brewery – Cotter either worked alone or with a helper taking orders. Davis returned to Oregon for family reasons, Cotter said, but still comes down for weeks at a time to work the cart.

Cotter seemed adept working solo, grilling sausages and buns before leaving the cart to deliver dogs to customers in the brewery.

At first, they tried to make the sausages themselves. But the quality wasn’t always there. So they bought high-end sausages from local producers, including Sacramento’s Morant’s and outlets near Lodi, Truckee and Chico whose names Cotter did not want to reveal for proprietary reasons. The cart generally offers seven sausages at a time, from bockwurst to andouille, with selections alternating daily.

The sausages are cured, poached or smoked before they reach the trailer, where they are heated via steamer and put on the grill to lend a nice smoky flavor. Every sausage we tasted was cooked perfectly, though the buns, on one visit, were a touch dry.

We learned over the course of our visits to go with Cotter’s condiment suggestions. Our own gambit on the tri-tip frank with balsamic aioli and braised onion was not successful. The frank tasted like a standard hot dog, and thus was in need of a spark that mild, slightly sweet aioli and onions could not provide.

It cried out for the vinegar-y bite of Arlington Brothers’ sauerkraut, which tastes fresh and fermented at once. Cotter recommended we use the kraut to augment a cheddar beer brat already decorated by spinach basil aioli and creamy lemon pepper mustard. Though it seemed like too many flavors at once, they worked in harmony. The airy, salty cheddar beer brat was my favorite of the cart’s sausages.

The same condiment combination also worked well with the  1/3 -pound garlic sausage, which we tried at Loomis Basin, home of the beer that goes with just about everything from the Arlington Brothers cart – the Vindicator IPA.

Fearful of too much spice and/or bitterness in our dog/beer pairings, we previously stuck to blonde ales and pilsners. But the Vindicator complemented pickle relish, sauerkraut and garlic alike. From Loomis Basin’s website, I later found that this beer offers aromas of tangerine and grapefruit, thus explaining its brightness-forward compatibility with the dog’s more acidic components and a full-bodied caramel element that’s clearly the balancer in the bunch.

Or, to use the parlance of the amiable, shorts-wearing dudes who hang at local breweries: Arlington dogs and Vindicator are killer together.

Arlington Brothers (food cart)

At various local breweries. www.facebook.com/ArlingtonBrothersHotDogs, 707-514-8221

Hours: Vary. Brewery stops are posted weekly on the cart’s Facebook page.

Beverages: Bottled water on hot days. Otherwise, Arlington Brothers leaves the drinks to the breweries.

Vegetarian options: Two vegan sausages.

Gluten-free options: If you lose the bun.

Ambiance: We visited the cart at Device Brewing Co. (8166 14th Ave., Sacramento), where the staff is friendly and the beer tasty but the atmosphere austere. The decor is warmer at Loomis Basin Brewing Co. (3277 Swetzer Road, Loomis), where we also liked the beer and service.

Overall

This 4-feet-by-8 feet trailer/cart offers tasty sausages and helpful service.

Food

Sausages are sourced from elsewhere, but are locally made and of high quality. The bread, from Truckee Sourdough, is good as well, though the white-bread bun was dry on one of our visits. Arlington Brothers shines with its house-made condiments, including an earthy curry ketchup and snappy sauerkraut.

Service  1/2

It’s minimal, but not as minimal as one would imagine from a hot dog cart. Operator Jason Cotter serves sausages to customers’ seats in the brewery.

Value

The dogs’ prices, generally around $6-$12, are worth it given the quality of ingredients.

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