Food fight: farmers' market dogs


Let's just keep things simple, shall we? Chef Shack, as most of you know, became a fixture at the Mill City Market last summer. This summer they started selling their inspired creations -- think watermelon tomato gazpacho, beet ice cream, and uber satisfying Arnie Palmers -- on Sundays from the Kingfield Farmers Market as well.

Newcomer Magic Bus Cafe, meanwhile, debuted at this year's May Day parade, and shows up each Saturday at the Midtown Farmers Market. The cafe features dogs only (well, a couple other things too), split and fried, with a variety of creative toppings, like garlic beet sauerkraut, curry relish, and local bacon.

So: Both set up camp at farmers' markets every weekend. Both have dogs. That's about where the similarities end. Here's a quick breakdown:

Price: Chef Shack dogs are all $5. All come semi-split and naked on a soft white bun. Magic Bus dogs range from $3.75 to $5.50 (.50-.75 extra for additional ingredients) and come split and fried on a multi-grain bun.

Dogs: Chef Shack uses grass-fed Thousand Hills beef. Magic Bus uses all-beef Boar's Head. Chef Shack's are bigger, the meat more assertive. Magic Bus's are more no-fuss and familiar, in both appearance and taste.

Toppings: Magic Bus dogs come with toppings already on them (the curry relish is terrific -- sweet spicy and a lingering (in a good way) aftertaste -- or you can mix and match as you please. Chef Shack, meanwhile, has a table set up off to the side of the trailer where you can pile on toppings like kimchi, curried mango, pickled onions, and several types of peppers along with the usual condiments with reckless abandon.

Aesthetic: It's kind of fun to step up to the Magic Bus Cafe. There's a step stool you stand on to order (allowing you to peer in to the bus if you like), a couple tables set up nearby, and bonus: You can even sit inside the bus at one of several booths. At Chef Shack, you're gonna have to cop a curb.

Overall: It depends on how much of a purist you are, and how much you favor atmosphere while you nosh. Magic Bus specializes in dogs. It's their thing. Plus you can sit in a real chair. In covered shade if you like. Meanwhile, Chef Shack serves lots of other stuff besides dogs. So if you enjoy taking your hot dog with, say, crème brûlée, Chef Shack's the place to go. On the other hand, Chef Shack's much more DIY. If you don't like making decisions (jalapeños or sport peppers? uhhh!) and want all the work done for you, Magic Bus is your best bet. But if you're a fussbudget who wants things just like you want things, you might prefer Chef Shack.

Both are definitely worthwhile. Both will be consumed again.