“It’s the first day of summer!” This was not a sentiment I expected to hear expressed in Anchorage, AK on March 23rd while the daytime temperature was hovering around 15 degrees. Granted, the seasons have different hallmarks in Alaska where the temperatures and daylight hours are worlds away from what I have become accustomed to in Southern California but even for one softened by the southern climate, I had a hard time understanding how anyone could claim this day to be a part of summer. In fact any time during my Alaska trip that I found myself outdoors, summer was about the furthest thing from my mind.
However, I was informed that the start of summer was in this case marked by the re-opening of M.A.’s Gourmet Dogs, an Anchorage institution celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. M.A.’s is the most beloved of several reindeer hot dog vendors in the city – for reasons both culinary and personality driven.
Michael Anderson is the owner and the man behind the grill. His rules are simple and clearly stated on the front of his cart (right below the tip jar and statue of James Brown). Most of his customers are longtime regulars who understand what it takes to keep the line moving even when it stretches around the block during the summertime peak. Despite all the excitement surrounding the opening of M.A.’s 20th season, the line was fairly manageable at around twenty or so people, but bear in mind these twenty people were willing to wait 15 – 20 minutes in 15 degree weather.
While reindeer isn’t the only variety of dog that M.A.’s sells, that’s what I was there for and I ordered two so that I’d be able to sample the full range of their ample topping bar. Initially, in a misguided nod towards digestive well-being, I ordered my dogs without the signature caramelized onions but was quickly set back on the right course through an interaction that went something like this:
ID: “Hi, two reindeer dogs please with no onions.”
ID: “Umm, two dogs with onions?”
Truth be told, he was absolutely right. The dogs were delicious in their own right but the onions really rounded out the flavor. I dressed one with sauerkraut & spicy mustard and the other with just M.A.’s own signature yellow mustard. If like me you’ve had venison sausage then you’ve been close to the experience of a reindeer dog – a touch of gamey flavor that is balanced by fairly heavy spicing – so this will not go down as a groundbreaking culinary experience but the real pleasure, as is so often the case, came from the service and the setting.