Hotdogs are sammiches

The finest in blacktop dining with Chico’s Gnarly Deli

The Juan Popper from Gnarly Deli.

The Juan Popper from Gnarly Deli.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Everywhere I go, Gnarly Deli is there.

Before a rock show at the Maltese Bar & Tap Room, the Gnarly grill was out back loaded with a batch of sizzling onions luring me to the patio. In the parking lot of the new Secret Trail Brewing Co., Gnarly owner Nick Stiles and his partner in sammiches, Eve Hamilton, were posted up behind the gleaming silver cart ready to serve up a tasty pun—like the “Ooo Mommy” dog—to go along with my brew. And, most recently, at United Healthcare, where I just happened to be cruising by on my bike and ran into the Gnarly pop-up tent out front.

OK, that last encounter wasn’t really by chance. Even though Gnarly Deli and I seem to run in the same circles, I was craving one of their meat-and-bread concoctions last week and couldn’t just wait for our paths to cross again. So, I looked up the week’s schedule posted on Facebook and rode my Schwinn out to 20th Street.

Stiles (aka Hank Duke, local comedian, musician and host of the Maltese’s Good Time Variety Show) opened Gnarly Deli a little over a year ago with the goal of making “the very best sammiches in the world.” Sammiches, of course, include hot dogs—a point that’s hilariously argued by Stiles on social media and reflected on his straightforward menu.

He normally features three to four cleverly titled offerings, with one or two standard sandwiches and a couple of dogs. Among the many rotating choices, there’s the Meat Slut, a sloppy Joe with ’Merican cheese and crispy fried onions on a brioche bun; the Lucille, with prosciutto, blue cheese, green apple slices, candied walnuts and honey drizzle on a baguette; and my personal favorite, the Ooo Mommy Dog ($6), a quarter-pound all-beef dog with teriyaki, nori, green onions and wasabi mayo on a sesame bun. It’s a gorgeous creation, with a generous topping of green onions and slivers of nori sticking to the wasabi mayo zig-zagging atop the dog. The nori is the kicker, and its earthy/briny flavor makes the Ooo Mommy live up to its name.

The appeal for me with Gnarly Deli is that all the creations I’ve tried are fun, unique and well-composed. Unlike many modern-day comfort-food purveyors, Stiles isn’t merely piling a bunch of crazy ingredients on top of one another for the sake of being over the top. The flavor combinations are as well conceived as they are varied.

For my recent sammich trek, I ordered two of the day’s selections—Reggie Alert ($8) and Juan Popper ($6)—with the plan of eating just half of each. However, I didn’t consider how it might look with me sitting down and tucking into two lunches, so I pedaled out of sight and into a corner of the WinCo parking lot to eat.

The Juan Popper is a Gnarly standby, a quarter-pound beef dog topped with shredded cheese, barbecue sauce, sour cream and crispy (and freakin’ amazing) fried jalepeños. It’s a beautiful creation, with my only complaint being that the cheese was cold on top when it would’ve worked better melted to the dog.

The Reggie Alert featured about the most flavorful and juicy sausage I’ve ever had (and I have the grease stains on my pants to prove it). The sausage is placed on a bun with red sauce, then topped with pepperoni slices and cheese and flipped over to grill the toppings in place. Perfect and exactly as described: “pepperoni pizza meets Italian sausage with mozzarella and Parmesan.”

I wish I could say that I stuck to the plan and finished only half of each generously portioned creation, but … maybe that’s what’s meant by “gnarly.” Just a dude alone, shredding a couple of sammiches, devouring the tasty gnar while sitting on a curb in a grocery parking lot.