It's baseball season and nothing beats a good hot dog. The best frank in town for my money is not at AT&T Park, but nearby at South Park (between 2nd and 3rd Streets). As unlikely as it seems, the Butler & the Chef Bistro, known for its French brunch and lunch cuisine, serves the juiciest, tastiest dog in town.
Sports fans, don't be intimidated by the Croque Monsieur, Salade Niçoise, Quiche of the Day or Michelin recommendation. Just go ahead and order the French Hot Dog Gratine. What you'll get is a Niman Ranch all beef hot dog (natural, no nitrates) which has been boiled and then put under the broiler to melt a thick, gooey layer of Emmenthal cheese all over it. This rests on a crisp baguette (organic, as all their breads and pastries are), which has been lightly coated with Dijon mustard. No soggy buns here! The $10 price includes a green salad and tiny cornichon pickles, sharp enough to offset the cheese.
Want to eat one at a Giants game? Good news (as long as it's a day game, as the Butler & the Chef closes at 3 pm, so no dinner service)... the hot dog is available on the To Go Menu for $8.50. This compares favorably with my ballpark favorite, the San Francisco Dog ($6.75) at the Hebrew National cart, an all beef baby featuring Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, onion and shredded Swiss cheese.
Hebrew National, on the first level by the escalator, also offers a Chicago Dog (mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle, peppers and celery salt), a Coney Island Dog (chili, cheddar cheese and onion) and a plain hot dog, all priced at $6.75. Doggie Diner ($4.75 and $6) and Derby Grill ($6.25) have hot dogs on several different levels at the park, but the mustard is French's (not French) and the sauerkraut is cold.
Hot dogs, or frankfurters, originated in Germany at least 300 years ago (the city of Frankfurt claims 500 years ago). The sausages were called dogs, not because of what they were made from, but because they resembled little dachshunds. Teaming them with rolls became popular in America in the mid-1800s and the owner of the St. Louis Browns baseball team started serving them at ballgames in 1893. (For more historical details, see the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council website.
If you're feeling adventurous, check out some unique variations on the theme in Huff Post's "San Francisco's Fanciest Hot Dogs."
Should you find yourself at a brasserie in Paris, don't order a chien chaud (the literal translation for hot dog). Instead, ask for a hot dog (but don't pronounce the "h") and you will be served a sausage on a lightly toasted baguette covered in melted cheese... much like you would at the Butler & the Chef.
The Butler & the Chef, 155A South Park, San Francisco (415-896-2075 or www.butlerandthechef.com)