With sandwiches like the Danny Davito and the Johnny Knoxville we were curious. Then they mentioned a 5 pound hotdog. And a giant PBR. Curious Dog had us hooked the moment we looked through the window.
Matt Weidenhamer is a mad scientist.
Inside his laboratory, a small corner shop hidden down a side road in Knoxville’s Old City, Matt works with his brother Todd to create seriously awe-inspiring sandwiches and hot dogs. That isn’t an exaggeration. He has five pound hot dogs, 18 inch sandwiches and huge chalkboard menus with a dizzying list of handfood with topping combinations that don’t seem possible.
It might be Knoxville’s best kept secret. For my friend, professional photographer Hannah Cather, and I it was perfect.
We met Paul Dalhaimer shortly after taking our stools at the counter. He was tall, animated and a happy talker. He was the truest definition of a regular and had been one from the time it was a corner market for downtown residents.
“I just walked by the place one day and saw they had a couple tappers” Paul said.
That is how Curious Dog got me too. I walked by. Inside the glow from a wall of glass coolers with a cornucopia of craft beer selections caught my eye. And then I saw them. The back wall was lined with retro arcade machines. I halted in the middle of a footfall, turned on my heel and stormed in to see what was going on. It was then that I fell in love before I had even tried the food.
Paul ordered a beer and went on. Soon we knew Matt’s story.
Matt Weidenhamer and his older brother Todd are Florida boys. Todd is a former musician– you can see his guitars on the wall– who used to work in the food business in Daytona Beach. He was no stranger to Curious Dog’s style of food.
Matt wasn’t always a food guy. For almost thirty years he has been a window washer. He has a masters of electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee and he also studied underwater archaeology in Greece, where he lived for four years.
A mad, smart, calculating scientist that makes amazing food.
After watching several customers come and go, and after staring at the giant menu boards, we ordered. I chose the Old City, a cajun turkey sandwich on sourdough that came with a spicy blend of chipotle, pepper jack cheese and their own mayo.
“I would say that’s their signature one” Paul said as I dove in. He continued with a few suggestions. “The Jhonny Knox is very different. I like the Lucy Liu, they make their own Kimchi.”
“If it can be made, we make it,” came Matt’s reply elbows deep in another creation. “We make our own mayonnaise, we also make our own chipotle. The meat is not genetically modified, 97% fat free except the turkey is 99.” From the vegetables to the breads everything is thoughtfully chosen to be good and good for you.
Despite the 10 hot dogs and the 16 or so sandwiches to choose from, there is also a secret menu.
“You have to meet somebody who’s had a secret sandwich to eat the secret sandwich” Matt said.
It started as you would imagine. People would come in and have no clue what to eat. The mad scientist would eagerly lend a hand.
“They didn’t know what to pick off of the menu so I just started making stuff up and they liked it so it became the secret menu.” After a while this practice gained momentum and people started asking for the secret food. If it got popular enough it would be emblazoned by Todd on the chalkboards.
“So now the secret menu is whatever I come up with when someone doesn’t know what they want. They’ll be the first to have it.” Matt smiled. “And they have to tell everybody because I won’t tell anybody else.”
“He once made me a sandwich that was potato salad and ham, and some other things” Paul noted. “It was really good. I don’t think that’s gonna make it up on the board,” he shook his head “I still liked it.”
We had no choice but to ask for a secret menu hot dog.
The hot dogs are all beef bun length franks lovingly deep fried and nestled in a french roll. The five pound monster, which has been dubbed the Biggie Smalls, comes in a massive 18-inch french roll. No one has finished a Biggie Smalls yet. Luckily you can order a half one.
“Somebody ate three-quarters of one and it was not Adam Richman,” said Paul.
We stepped away from our empty pint glasses to check out the coolers. There were beers from all over the country, some beyond. They were sold in the singles and many by the six pack. Of course you could build your own or sit down at the bar or one of the tables and enjoy your beer there, amid the laughter and arcade games.
The beers on tap were microbrews that were local and these changed often. There was also PBR which you could enjoy by the 32 ounce mug for only $5. All day every day. No, it’s not a special.
“It’s not like it’s the same stuff every week. We change all the time” Matt said. “There are staples in there but at least thirty different ones every week.” It makes for an expansive selection in a part of town that is light on take home beer selections.
There was that mad scientist twinkle in Matt’s eye again.
“We make different flavored foams to put on beer.” Matt smiled. What a glorious invention. “We’ll make a Guiness maple syrup foam to put on another beer, and it’s sort of like a black and tan.”
I was dumbfounded. Matt continued.
“So you just put a little beer up and spray a nice two, three inches of foam on top and the foam will sit there for a good two or three minutes.”
Paul chimed in, “Now they’ve done this new thing where they take ciders and they infuse it with syrups so it’s almost like champagne.”
“We did a champagne, one that tastes like apple pie moonshine. We’re getting ready to do a jalapeno-pineapple chocolate IPA.” Matt was maniacal. “For the secret menu we’re making syrups out of beer or ciders to put on sandwiches. We’re going to turn cider into syrup and then it’ll be like a honey thickness on top.”
Curious Dog is located on Jackson Avenue just outside of the Old City in Knoxville. Matt and his brother work every day, the store is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. but closes early on Sundays. They do offer vegetarian options if you are so inclined. (865) 544-1111
The hot dog was ready. My secret menu dog had Thai chow chow made in house, it had fresh cucumber, mustard, and feta cheese, and crumbled bacon. It was mindbogglingly delicious. We also ordered a Hawaiian dog topped with pineapple and other delicacies that mixed salty and sweet to perfection.
“That was made up on the fly,” Matt said. “When you come in and ask for the secret hot dog, that’ll be the only one. You gotta come when my brother is here because I won’t tell him what it is and he’ll have to call me.”
We suggest you do.