Brian Luscher must be greedy. A few years ago, the hamburger he serves at the Grape, his charming Lower Greenville bistro, was named nothing less than the best burger in the state by Texas Monthly. And now, based on the evidence at Luscher's Red Hots, his 7-month-old sausage emporium in Deep Ellum, he wants the title for best hot dog, too.
He has a darn good shot. Luscher's is his paean to the wieners (and other proletarian delights) of his hometown, Chicago, and you'd be hard-pressed to find tastier wursts anywhere. That they're then tricked out with top-notch fixings, from buns baked by La Française in Garland to house-made brown mustard, makes things all the better.
The venture began a few years back, when Luscher bought a smoker trailer and started playing around with making his own franks. The result, which he sold at White Rock Local Market, was his signature post oak red hot. A combination of pork and beef, it's now ground and stuffed by Local Yocal, the outstanding butcher in McKinney. Smoked for six to eight hours over -- you guessed it -- oak, it's deeply savory, smoky and meaty, with the snap that comes from natural casing. You can have it in various iterations. There's the Luscher's, on a poppy-seed bun with sweet piccalilli relish, onions, Lemley's tomatoes, pickled hot peppers and spicy mustard. Or you can have it as the Chicago Depression Dog, which comes with French fries on top. Or how about topped with "northerner" chili ('cause it has beans), sharp cheddar and corn chips? This is some kind of messy fun.
Luscher's serves up some other non-frankfurter-style sausages, including the Meat Fight, a thick, juicy smoked combination of beef and pork with an "internal garnish" of roasted pepper and cheddar cheese stuffed right in. It comes topped with grilled onions, barbecue sauce and coleslaw. Or there's bratwurst.
Or kielbasa. Or sweet and hot Italian. Carl Sandburg didn't call Chicago the broad-shouldered hog butcher for the world for nothing.
If sausages aren't your thing -- well, why are you here, exactly? -- Luscher's surprisingly long menu offers some alternatives. Try the Eye-Talian beef sandwich, another Chicago lunch-counter specialty that here gets elevated with Texas Wagyu slow-roasted for 12 hours or so. The beefy, thin-shaved meat comes on a French roll, gets dunked in jus and dressed with house-made giardiniera -- a marinated salad of carrots, peppers, cauliflower, olives and such. Luscher also rubs a bone-in butt of Berkshire pork with garlic and red and black pepper, roasts it for 14 hours, then shreds it for a couple of sandwiches including the Uncle Jimmy, in which the tender pork is paired with zippy Italian sausage, plus jus, plus giardiniera.
Another uncle, nicknamed Hercules, is immortalized by the Uncle Herky burger, a sloppy delight that combines two Wagyu patties with copious amounts of American cheese, grilled onions, mayo and mustard. And you definitely want to get that with the optional peppered bacon.
If you want to avoid red meat, Luscher's serves up another iconic Second City dish, fried Great Lakes smelt, as a special on Fridays. Served in a cardboard basket with slaw, french fries, tartar sauce and rye bread, the little fishes come lightly battered but overcooked, fried until they're almost fish jerky. There's also an enormous sandwich called the BBQ Oak Roasted Fran's Chicken -- half a roast chicken breast with bacon, cheddar cheese, barbecue sauce, mustard, pickles and red onion. The chicken is flavorful and moist, but it is, shall we say, not the easiest thing to eat in sandwich form.
If you're detecting a theme here, it's excess. These sandwiches are piled high with stuff; it's fine stuff, and the drippy result is often delicious if somewhat unwieldy. But it sometimes seems a little cacophonous: All the slaw and sauce and peppers and cheese can drown out the excellent sausages themselves. I found myself wanting to try that post oak frank plain, on a bun, with nothing more than a shpritz of mustard. Well, plus the fried onion rings, because they're purely great -- salty, sweet and crisp. Other sides are pretty good, too -- the thin-cut crispy fries, creamy potato salad, the fresh, tangy shredded coleslaw and the spicy chili (though the beans may amount to sacrilege in Texas).
By contrast, the two dining rooms, combined from a defunct bar and a former warehouse, are fairly spare, as is the patio out front. The main room has high-top tables and stools and the usual post-industrial exposed-ductwork look; a second space includes some booths. There's some jocular sausage-related artwork on the walls.
In keeping with the more-or-less natural, local, scratch-made ethos here, all the fixtures are made in Fort Worth from reclaimed materials. The same spirit is in evidence at the drinks dispenser, which offers indie sodas like Austin's Maine Root. There's also a short list of about a dozen beers; the Deep Ellum IPA goes down particularly well with this food.
You order from affable folks at a counter at the back of the main room, wait for your name to be called, and pick up your food on cafeteria trays. I doubt you'll have room for dessert, but a freezer holds some -- yes! -- indie, local goodies, like Dallas' own Pop Star Handcrafted Popsicles. The deeply chocolaty fudge flavor is mighty good, as is the surprisingly complex mojito.
But it is really the sausages that are the star of the show here. Give the man another prize.
Luscher's Red Hots (3 stars)
Price: $$ (sandwiches and entrees $5 to $13; side dishes $2 to $2.85; desserts $1.50 to $5)
Service: Affable folks take your order at a counter. You collect your food yourself (it usually comes pretty expeditiously) and bus your own table.
Ambience: The two dining rooms are airy and somewhat spare, with cheerful orange walls, exposed brick and blond wood. The main room offers high-top tables and stools; the back room has some booths. There are tables and benches on the patio out front.
Noise level: No soft surfaces here. And when the several televisions are tuned to, say, a football game, things can get a bit rackety.
Location: 2653 Commerce St., Dallas; 214-434-1006; luschers.com
Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine only, including Goose Island Beer Co.'s Honker's Ale on draft, a few bottled brews from Texas and Chicago, and half-bottles of Honig Sauvignon Blanc and Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor