Even burgers and dogs, among the most populist of American dishes, can benefit from a little time spent here in the Crescent City. After all, this is the city that placed Lucky Dogs upon a literary pedestal through Paradise Vendors in A Confederacy of Dunces. While Ignatius may no longer be peddling his 12 inches of paradise along the streets of the French Quarter with his cry of “Savory delicacies from the hygienic Paradise kitchens,” rest assured that you can still find plenty of local flavor in New Orleans takes on these all-American treats.
Easy Dogs in Gretna has quickly established itself as a neighborhood hangout, offering up “hot dogs with a Cajun flair.” They accomplish this by simmering the all-beef franks in a pot of crab boil-infused water. This lends the baseline dog a subtle kick even before you begin to pile on the toppings. Like hurricanes, these dogs are categorized on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. A Kat One gives you an Easy Dog with chili, the Kat Two builds on it with slaw. The logical extension of this categorization is, of course, the Katrina, which comes buried in a storm surge of chili, slaw, cheese, onions and cheddar Goldfish crackers. Other local references make the menu in the form of their Blu Dog, which comes garnished with blue cheese, and the Turducken Dog, a turkey, duck and chicken dog that comes loaded with dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Also, for vegetarians, the Mojo dog offers a meat-free frank.
Hunger’s gain is practicality’s loss, as these dogs have a tendency to quickly lose their free-hand manageability and require tackling with a knife and fork. This arrangement wouldn’t fly on the streets of Manhattan, but here in Gretna it makes sense because Easy Dogs is more than a hot dog shack; it also offers up a full bar and a slew of events and entertainments such as their Let’s Make a Wheel of Bingo, a mash-up of all referenced game shows. This, in true New Orleans tradition, is offered in both family-friendly and (later in the evening on Fridays) adult versions. Other events include comedy improv and the like. For dessert, the Sugar Shack, an ice cream parlor on the ground floor, adds additional lure, especially for kids.
If you can’t decide between a burger and a dog, split the difference with a Patton’s Hot Sausage Patty Poor Boy from Mahony’s, a new sandwich joint on Magazine Street. The thin, spicy patties come nested in a cylinder of golden French bread, dressed with mayo, pickles and lettuce along with whatever else you like. You can augment this with a side of Creole Potato Salad, punched up with the addition of coarse-ground Creole mustard. The flavor of the patty is akin to a breakfast sausage, plus whatever flavors it picks up from the flat top grill as lagniappe. Bonus sandwiches at Mahony’s include a Grilled Shrimp and Fried Green Tomato poor boy dressed with Remoulade sauce, along with a decadent French Fry, Roast Beef Gravy and Cheddar Cheese belly buster. Already popular, this place shows real promise as a new causal lunch destination, with a full bar and daily drink specials to boot.
Fancy places doing upscale burgers are a national trend right now, and New Orleans is in on the action as well. Over at Lüke in the CBD, the Lüke Burger has maintained a constant presence on the lunch and dinner menu. A large, loosely-packed patty comes cooked to order on an onion roll and garnished with habit-forming Allen Benton’s bacon, caramelized onions, and Emmenthaler cheese. The sandwich is presented on a wooden cutting board with a flanking paper cone of delicious fries stuffed in a silver mint julep cup. A complementing triumvirate of ketchup, mayo and Dijon mustard in little hotel-size mini-bottles complete the tableau.
The burger is tasty, though the loosely-packed patty has a tendency to fall apart. The Benton bacon adds smokiness to the complexion of the dish. Paired with the caramelized onions, this makes for a damn good sandwich. As an emergency backup sandwich, consider Lüke’s BLT. Fried buster crab is laid atop a bun with (again) Allan Benton’s bacon, lettuce and tomato. Completing the dish is the side serving of creamy and onion-pocked crawfish and potato salad, which is scary good. Keep in mind the BLT is only offered on the lunch menu.
Chef Justin Devillier also puts out a well-regarded upscale burger on the lunch menu at La Petite Grocery. The patty is on the thin side and made from a mix of ground chuck and filet. It comes dressed with homemade pickles, a Vidalia onion marmalade, and Gruyere cheese. The kicker is the onion bun, which is soft but sturdy enough to maintain its structure and stand up to such a sandwich. You can opt for a small salad, but go with the fries – they are quite good here.
If you want to get back to basics, the quintessential fundamental burger can be had at Lakeview Harbor on Harrison Avenue. If you hunger for a sandwich to rival that of Port of Call and Snug Harbor but don’t want to deal with the hassles of lines and downtown parking, this is a good option. The meat for the patties is ground daily and the half-pound burgers are grilled to order. Served alongside a loaded baked potato and you will have a feast to sate an all-pro linebacker. If the whole baked potato is too much but you still want a little extra, have them throw some cheese on the fries. Also, the barbecue sauce on the table is a good match – sharp and with a twinge of vinegar.
Finally, we have the Dome Dogs. Served with Dome Foam, they are essentially a blank slate upon which is projected the performance of the Saints. When the Saints win, they always seem to taste better. Here’s to hoping they taste great going into November.
GRAB ’EM WHILE THEY’RE HOT!
307 Huey P. Long Ave.