Photographs by Robyn Lee. "DBGB Dog" at Daniel Boulud's DBGB.
Bacon has owned the "food of the moment" title for a while. The latest recessionary sales slogan should go something like: Make Money At Home While Still In Your Pajamas, Start a Bacon Blog! Cupcakes have also been glorified. And naturally, bacon cupcakes have developed a fanatical following.
Now hot dogs, or should I say haut dogs, are threatening to take away the glory. Fancypants chefs, French and otherwise, in pursuit of their own American hot dog dreams can't leave well enough alone. By nature, fancypants chefs are obsessive, compulsive tinkerers and lily-gilders. So now they're going about the business of reinventing the hot dog.
My exhaustive New York hot dog research turned up compelling evidence that most great hot dogs in New York City are in fact made by the same company: Sabrett. Further, my research found that though Sabrett's makes many kinds of hot dogs, all the hot dogs we know and love in Gotham are virtually the same dog.
So how can fancypants chefs improve on what many observers say is tubesteak perfection? Dress it up, or start from scratch. Meet the New York haut dogs.
The semi-secret, hipper-than-thou cocktail lounge PDT (Please Don't Tell) on St. Mark's Place kicked off the haut dog derby. They asked half a dozen top toques to design hot dogs in their own image using a natural casing beef and pork Thurman's hot dog--the mainstay of PDT's neighbor Crif Dogs.
The "Wylie Dog" at PDT.
The David Chang dog (yes, that David Chang) is bacon-wrapped and covered with very dark, very salty kimchi, which is such a powerful flavor it even obscures the bacon. The Wylie Dog, named after its creator WD-50's Wylie Dufresne is actually a brilliant, fully realized Rube Goldberg-like invention: a deep-fried Crif dog paired with the greatest hot dog condiment ever--a deep-fried mayo baton that's been breaded with hot-dog-bun crumbs. It also comes with tomato molasses (fancypants chef ketchup), freeze-dried onions, and shredded romaine. It totally works on every level, from haut to hot and back.
They'll also serve you a corn dog at PDT (don't tell anyone, it's not on the menu), but it turns out to be pretty ordinary. If you want to get something fried here, opt for the tater tots, the real Ore-Ida kind, served with jalapeno peppers and cheese sauce. They make any hot dog or cocktail taste better.
At the newish Upper West Side Shake Shack location, manager Mark Rosati has come up with a killer corn dog--a natural casing Vienna Beef dog straight outta Chicago that's been dipped in a light corn flour and fried to a beautiful dark-tinged golden brown. The fried-coating-to-hot-dog-ratio is perfect, as is the relish made from local pickle maker Rick's Picks. Unfortunately, it's only available on select summer holiday weekends (I tried it over Memorial Day, and am looking forward to its July 4th reappearance).
At New York Hot Dog & Coffee, which has over 200 locations in Korea, owner Mi-kyung Choi introduces Seoul soul to the hot dog. She takes a steamed or boiled all-beef hot dog and tops it with the Korean beef dish staple bulgogi and some kimchi. Yes, it's beef on beef, but it totally works, especially with the addition of the just-spicy-enough kimchi.
At Daniel Boulud's new, already jammin' DBGB, jean-clad hipsters get to choose from 13 house-made sausages, including, yes, a haute dog (appropriately called the DBGB dog) served on a terrific house-made bun topped with a most excellent made with 50 ingredients (all right, I'm exaggerating) and served with amazing french fries. It's an honest and earnest attempt to replicate a German frankfurter, and it tastes good, but it's missing the juicy snap the best natural casing Sabrett hot dogs have. You want just a little resistance when you bite into a hot dog, not pillowy tenderness.
That same snap is missing from Zak Pelaccio's Malaysian-inspired Fatty Dog at the Upper West Side branch of Fatty Crab. The dog itself is made from pork shoulder, fatback, Thai chilies, pickled ginger and garlic, and belacan, or fermented shrimp paste. This is not my father's hot dog. The toppings: aioli, pickled Thai chilies and radishes, cilantro leaves, and in a nod to Chicago hot dogs, cucumber. Pelaccio's hot dog--thanks to all the Thai chilies--is hot, hot, hot.
So what can serious eaters conclude from our little haut dog exploration? Well, if you can pass the hipness-hotness test at PDT, have the Wylie Dog and an order of tater tots. And if you want to go Asian for your hot dog-eating pleasure, try the bulgogi kimchi dog at New York Hot Dog and Coffee. If nostalgia for your childhood gets the best of you, and you feel the need for a corn dog--and can wait until a summer holiday weekend--head up to the Upper West Side Shake Shack.
But really, if all you want is a truly first-rate all-beef hot dog with plenty of snap, head to your nearest Papaya King or Gray's Papaya King. (Don't go to any of the other hot dog wannabe spots with Papaya in the title. These are almost all hot dog pretenders, trying to game hot dog-loving New Yorkers. We are smarter than that.) At Papaya King I order a combination slaw and sauerkraut dog with pickles and mustard. It's sweet, salty, spicy, and meaty at the same time. What could be better?
At Gray's the "recession special," two hot dogs and a medium Papaya juice for $4.45, is still the greatest hot dog deal in town. Ask for your hot dogs well-done. The friendly counter people at Gray's will usually ignore you, but if by some chance they do listen, you will have yourself the perfect hot dog.
113 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10009
366 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10024
New York Hot Dog & Coffee
245 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10014
New York NY 10003
New York, NY 10024