Here's Your First Look At Luscher's Post Oak Red Hots in Deep Ellum.
Try as foodies might to convince trendy eaters otherwise, Brian Luscher knows one thing to be true: Hot dogs are meant to be blue-collar, non-elitist foodstuffs.
They're the great equalizer, if you will. And thanks to his upbringing the Chicago suburb of Elgin, where red hots are a rite of passage far greater than a siren call heard during Cubs games, Luscher knows this rather well.
Another thing The Grape's owner — already the man behind the best burger in Texas — knows is that the best hot dogs are still handled with care. And, by serving up his take on hot dogs at the White Rock Local Market, he's proved that he knows what he's talking about there.
Now, he'll aim to prove that on a much larger scale. On March 2, his new restaurant — Luscher's Post Oak Red Hots — will finally open in Deep Ellum, bringing its namesake's almost Soup Nazi-like approach to hot dogs with it.
Also in tow? An impressive display of determination. After years of trying unsuccessfully to find a home for this venture, this spot's a long time coming. In turn, the hype surrounding its opening is pretty high.
Lucky us, then, that Luscher was game to take a break from readying his spot for its opening to show us around the space, to speak with us about the driving forces and influences behind this concept, and to tell us how he thinks this venture can fit into Dallas' ever-changing food scene.
How does it feel to finally open Luscher's Post Oak Red Hots after all of that time at White Rock Local Market?
I can't believe it's starting to feel real. We've been working on this two years, and it's surreal. We're going through these couple of practice runs to kind of get familiar, and have our staff get a chance to become more proficient at what we're doing. So at the same time, it's exhilarating, scary as hell and exciting.
There were a lot of hoops you had to jump through in order to get the place open.
Well, kinda. Y'know, with the City of Dallas, they have their jobs to do. But it's a lot of hoops, yeah. That's one way to say it without being too condemning of anyone else. All the codes are in place for public safety reasons, but all the hoops and everything… I think they've made it worth it. It's prolonged what we're doing right now. But we are supposed to have done all of that in order to get here.
So you're saying those hoops gave you time to think things through, and to make sure everything was done to your specifications.
Or to over-think them.
How has this process been different than things at The Grape?
I was a chef [at The Grape first]. It was a restaurant that was already open for 40 years, and I just kind of took it over. So I took over a restaurant and grew it. This one is brand-spanking new. It's a new concept. It's a new location. Everyone in here is new. In that regard, I've never opened up my own brand new restaurant from scratch. It's a learning experience, and anyone who's done it before can tell you that it's one of the coolest things ever. This is my second kid.
Are you still going to be head chef over at The Grape?
I guess my role is that I am the chef-owner, and there are other chef-owners in Dallas that aren't in the kitchen every day. I've got a really great chef de cuisine, which is, in a sense, the executive chef. She runs the day-to-day operations — her name is Sarah Snow — and my wife, Courtney, is the general manager. We've kinda got those players in place. But as soon as I feel like the training wheels can come off of Luscher's Red Hots, then I'll be able to bounce back and forth. And that was part of the allure of Deep Ellum — it's in a straight shot from my house to The Grape to here and back.
You've been in Dallas for almost two decades now. Did you specifically come here to be the chef at The Grape at first?
It wasn't because of The Grape. It was because I was seeking my fortune. I'd just graduated from culinary school, and a buddy of mine — an engineer — moved from Chicago to Fort Worth because there was a big Motorola plant out there. He said, “Dude, come and check out Texas.” And I was like, “Right on.” I checked it out and I fell in love. You can sense the opportunity in the air much more than anywhere else I'd been — and this was '96-'97! It's the land of opportunity. There's plenty of opportunity in Dallas if you're willing to work for it. I felt like this is where I was supposed to be. On top of that, just as an aside, there's a huge Chicago expat contingency in the Metroplex.
I was wondering about that being a draw for you!
We're all like, “Hey, guy from the Chicago area! Would you move to New York?” No.
“Would you move to any other big city?” Why would I? “But, now, would you move to Texas?” Texas is cool. I came down here expecting people with cowboy hats and riding horses.
I think that's a Midwestern thing, that expectation.
Totally. And, then, when I got down here, I was also bummed that Dallas and Fort Worth weren't like Minneapolis and St. Paul, where you can just cross over on one street. But coming here, there isn't a lot of foods that Chicagoans crave.
As a Chicago native who's lived in Dallas for the past two decades, have you ever found anything that's comparable to the stuff from back home?
Sure! Jimmy's has got a good Italian beef sandwich. Wild About Harry's has the Vienna beef products that we all grew up eating in Chicago, and it's a pretty commodity type product — it's everywhere. Louie's has good Chicago-style thin crust pizza. There's a place in Richardson called The Dog Stop where you can get Chicago dogs and Italian beefs – and they're about the closest thing I've found. And now there's Al's #1 Italian Beef that just opened up.
That's going to be the big one that everyone tries to compare you guys to, I think.
The number of Chicagoans that came out of the woodwork for that is a tip of the cap to how many Chicagoans are down here.
What is something you miss about Chicago cuisine that you just can't get or duplicate in Dallas?
Good Chinese food. There are a couple of places [here] that are good. Just good, cheap Chinese food. Every suburb [up in Chicago] has a cheap takeout, sit-down place. I'll tell you what I miss: shrimp fried rice. Another thing I miss is good deli. There are a couple of places in town, and I'm not saying there aren't any, period. But the wide availability of great deli [isn't here]. I also miss ice cream shops. It's so cold up there, but there's an ice cream parlor in every town. Those to me are a few things that I really miss — besides, obviously, the dog joints and what I've done here. And the barbecue is different. Doesn't mean it's better, but just going out to get baby back ribs.
You're going to be offering some interesting items here. What would you say is a Dallas equivalent to some of these Chicago-style toppings you're going to be offering?
Well, I think when you start talking about Texas barbecue joints, there's this kind of fundamentalist dogma that goes along with traditional foods — like, “You don't eat it this way.” Like, you never put ketchup on a Chicago dog. So when it comes to barbecue, people get pretty, “This is how it's done” or “No, you don't do it this way.”
How would you say options for hot dogs in Dallas differ from what's in the Midwest?
You know what I find becomes the hot dog's success or demise? When they go for what are all of the crazy toppings I can get on it, like a Hawaiian dog. You almost wouldn't dare do that in Chicago. I think that's, for me, one of the things that I wanted to break when I opened this place. That's why it says, “Taste Texas, Chicago style” [on the sign].Somebody from Chicago would say that this isn't a Chicago dog. But they're right, it's not. It's my interpretation, as the guy that lives in Texas. There's no preconceived notions of what you can and can't do this on a hot dog in Dallas or in Texas. [People] are just like, “How eclectic can we get?” I think that's where Dallas is in this unique culinary crossroads. All these people are experimenting. Dallas diners are ready to experiment. The eclecticness of things is interesting or engaging now, where before it kind of scared native Texans away.
It definitely seems like people are willing to try new things these days.
Fifteen years ago, I couldn't have given away a piece of headcheese. Now people are taking pictures of it, and posting it on Instagram. You get my point. I think, 15 to 20 years ago, the ice was still thin and everybody liked their Caesar salads, their shrimp cocktails, their big steaks and a slice of cheesecake. And, to a lesser degree, that's still good. I will go and eat that dinner. But now there's that desire to try something new.
Speaking of something new: You're going to be serving Green River Soda here. That's a pretty interesting score. What would you say it is about Green River that makes it so popular among Chicagoans?
It's really one of those super indigenous things, where you only get it in Chicago. I don't even know in Chicago how much more people really get that anymore.
From what I've read, though, it's super rare. So that you got it is a big deal
It's one of those not quite dying breeds but traditions that's not making a generational leap. For my parents' generation, it was one of those few sodas — pop — that you could get. I grew up drinking it, but I hadn't had it in 20 years. But, after drinking it, I was instantly transported to being nine years old in the summer.
In addition to hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, I see that you're going to be serving burgers here, too. How did that happen?
Even before Texas Monthly said we had the greatest burger ever, a cheeseburger truly was my comfort food. Being from the Midwest, and being the son of a butcher, we had burgers for dinner once a week. I just dig on burgers — and it makes sense with all of this. It's got that kind of sandwich-y feel.
What are your thoughts on corndogs?
On Mondays, we're gonna do Post Oak Corn Dogs. On the menu, we have specials. Tuesday is Tallow Fry Tuesday, and all of our French fries are going to be fried in local beef fat. Wednesday is Francheezies: You open a hot dog, put cheese in it, wrap it in bacon and fry it, and then you put it on half of a grilled cheese sandwich and fold it like a taco. Thursdays, we're gonna do Commerce Street bone-in pork chop sandwiches. Then there's Friday Night Smelt Fry.
Got a good beer pairings suggestion for a hot dog?
One of my favorite beer pairings for a hot dog is at Wrigley Field. Twenty bucks will get you a cold hot dog and a warm beer — and it's the best thing you've ever had. Old Style is the Lone Star of Chicago, but you cannot get it here. I would have ice cold Old Style or a Lone Star with a red hot or beef or any of these sandwiches. Just working man's food, with working man's beer.
What's the one thing you're most looking forward to about opening?
Just getting open, finally. We've been working on this for two and a half years, and all of the obstacles we've faced have been prolonged to us getting to this. I've been working in this business since I was five. I got my first job washing dishes. I've always been in this business. All this sacrifice and all of these reviews as a chef. I'll be damned if I'm not going to make my fortune on hot dogs.