Every Dog Has Its Day

30 June 2006
Every Dog Has Its Day

Oversized, dressed-up hot dogs are tailor-made for adult tastes.

This article first appeared in the 1 May 2006 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website www.foodservice411.com.

By Lisa Bertagnoli, Special to R&I

"It's salt, fat and meat in one tasty package; what else do you want?" says owner Doug Sohn, a culinary-school graduate with an abiding affection for what he calls encased meats.

The hot dog, forever a fixture on kids menus and at ballpark snack stands, has grown up. Restaurants around the country menu premium-beef dogs and organic franks as well as oversize and unusually dressed hot dogs.

Hamburger Mary's, a 13-unit chain based in Newport Beach, Calif., offers a hot dog that's both big and well-dressed-if the customer wants it that way. The Homewrecker is a 12-inch, half-pound dog that's grilled and served naked (with mustard and relish, $7.99) or dressed (with chili and cheese, or mustard, bacon, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, $8.99). The price includes potato salad, coleslaw or fries.

For such a humble menu item, the hot dog is good at getting a "wow" from customers, says David Dorsey, executive chef at Hamburger Mary's. "It's a little overwhelming but a lot of fun and enjoyable."

Likewise, guests at Rockit Bar & Grill in Chicago find the 12-inch, 11-ounce Kobe-beef Rockit Dogg ($18) a bit daunting. "They're not expecting something so different and oversize," says Brad Young, an owner of the 2-year-old restaurant/night spot. Once customers understand how big the dog is, they order it as an appetizer for sharing, he says.

Young added the hot dog to Rockit's menu a year ago, after a premium-beef hamburger was shown to be a strong seller. The name on the menu helps soften the sticker shock: "People are accustomed to paying for quality," Young says.

The bigger-is-better trend hasn't gone unnoticed by chain operators. Newport Beach, Calif.-based Wienerschnitzel recently rolled out the Big Dawg at more than 350 locations.

A one-third-pound hot dog, split, grilled and nestled in a 10-inch bun, Big Dawg can be dressed in one of three ways: the Double Cheese Chili Dawg with both American and Cheddar cheeses along with a ladle of chili; the BBQ Bacon Dawg, with barbecue sauce, two bacon slices, Cheddar and deep-fried onion straws; and the Reuben Dawg, boasting a topping of pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. Priced from $3.49 to $3.99, Big Dawgs will be on the chain's menu at least through the end of summer.

Dallas-based 7-Eleven also has taken its classic Big Bite hot dog for an upscale spin with the addition of a chile-lime-flavored Big Eats Griller smoked-sausage sandwich.

Haute Dogs

Jonnatan Leiva, chef at Jack Falstaff in San Francisco, says quality was his only concern when he went searching for a hot dog for a new ballpark menu. The 120-seat, full-service restaurant is located two blocks from AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

"Our clientele are foodies," says Leiva. "They know good-quality meat versus a plain old hot dog."

The winning dog is a house-smoked pork-fennel sausage topped with caramelized onions and served on a sourdough bun ($10). Aware of his customers' penchant for brand names, Leiva lists the name of the hot-dog maker on the menu.

He says the gussied-up frank is right at home on the menu of fancified favorites, which also includes Moroccan-spiced chicken wings, pizza with asparagus and prosciutto, and a trio of miniburgers. The menu, which Leiva calls "a festive, completely organic, slow-food approach to the ballpark experience," debuted in early spring.

Hot dogs don't necessarily need a fancy pedigree to be popular. Sometimes, designer dressings do the trick. That's the case at the 56-seat Spy City Cafe in Washington, D.C., where basic hot dogs get a variety of costumes and clever names that suit the surroundings; the restaurant is in the kid-focused International Spy Museum.

The Red Square Dog ($3.25) sports Dijon mustard, chile sauce, red-cabbage slaw and red peppers; the MI-5 Dog ($3.25) is blanketed with onions, bacon and shredded English Cheddar cheese.

Spy City Cafe didn't open with hot dogs on its menu; a 50-item salad bar was replaced two years ago. "We needed something quicker and more fun," says Dan Mesches, president of Star Restaurant Group, which operates Spy City Cafe, Zola and Indigo Landing restaurants in Washington, D.C. Hot dogs now account for 20% to 33% of sales. "It's amazing how excited people get about hot dogs," Mesches says.

Especially big people. "Adults love hot dogs, no matter what they say," Mesches says. "It's like their dirty little dining secret."

Hot All Over

A hot-dog sampler from menus around the country:

  • French Hot Dog Gratiné: all-beef hot dog with melted Emmenthal cheese on baguette with Dijon mustard and cornichons, $8.50. The Butler & The Chef Bistro, San Francisco

  • Red Hot Bayou: vegetarian hot dog with red beans, peppers, onions, celery, corn and Cajun spices, $5.75. Cyber Dogs, Seattle

  • Santa Fe Turkey Sausage with roasted green pepper and chipotle chiles, $3.39. The DogOut, San Francisco

  • Griddled hot dog with griddled onions, organic ketchup, mustard, relish and sauerkraut, $5. Let's Be Frank, San Francisco

  • - Tequila Chicken sausage with jalapeÁ±os, corn and fresh lime, $4.59; Chicago-style hot dog with tomato, cucumber, dill pickle, sport peppers and celery salt, $3.59. Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom, multiple locations

  • Cheddar brat or hot dog, potato nuggets, peaches and milk. School District of Monroe (Wis.)

  • Three Dog Night Dog: three hot dogs wrapped in a tortilla with three slices of bacon, three slices of cheese, chili and onions, $5.95. Pink's Hot Dogs, Los Angeles

  • Lobster Corn Dog with spiced citrus-honey dressing, $18. 676 Restaurant & Bar, Chicago

  • Foot-long hot dog, grilled and topped with coleslaw, chili, mustard and onions, $5.25. Rick's Diner, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

  • Coconut Beach: veggie dog or Polish sausage with garlic-lemon sauce and coconut relish, $5.95. Puka Dog, Poipu, Hawaii
    Junkyard Dog: spicy Polish sausage, mustard, onion, chili, cheese and jalapeÁ±o, $3.85. Wild About Harry's, Dallas

Taking a Stand

It's one thing to menu hot dogs, quite another to celebrate them as The Stand does.

"The simple idea behind the restaurant was that no one was doing justice to an iconic American food. We wanted to give hot dogs the respect they deserve in a great, comfortable environment," says Murray Wishengrad, who with partner Richard Shapiro (a co-founder in 1984 of The Grill on the Alley chain) opened the Encino, Calif., restaurant in 2003.

The partners' 18 months of cross-country research into hot-dog styles and tastes resulted in a menu that honors the many ways a simple hot dog can be prepared and dressed.

A Chicago-style red hot is just the beginning of the menu's options. The steamed Boston Dog is topped with baked beans, Swiss cheese and mustard; the Southeastern-style Slaw Dog sports coleslaw and chili, if desired. Those who believe hot dogs should be grilled can savor a Big Blue Dog (blue cheese, grilled onions, tomato and house red sauce infused with chipotle) or the Downtown L.A. Dog (a grilled, bacon-wrapped dog served with mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and grilled onions and bell pepper). Prices range from $2.95 for the steamed Stand Dog (with any of 12 condiment choices) to $4.95 for the grilled BBQ Dog with melted Cheddar, chopped onion, barbecue sauce and bacon.

Polish, Italian, andouille, bratwurst, chicken-apple and other sausages also are offered. Burgers, salads and desserts have worked their way onto the menu to broaden the restaurant's appeal. Wine and beer are available.

"The respect we show hot dogs extends to presentation and service," Wishengrad adds. "Our hot dogs aren't rolled and bagged and tossed at the customer like at some places."

The Stand has three dining areas: a 45-seat main room, 45 seats in an enclosed patio; and 85 garden seats.

Lisa Bertagnoli is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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