The gourmet burger boom continues, with more places slated to open this fall. Therefore I’ve decided this month to focus on the hamburger’s skinny and oft-neglected companion: the hot dog. While these guys tend to hang out on the same menus, the burger usually gets all the love. This one is for you, dog.
Leading the pack is Dat Dogs, a joint venture between Constantine Georges, who allegedly wields his power from a mountaintop in Mykonos, Greece, and Skip Murray, the “Hot Dog King of the UK.” Friends since high school, they now sling franks from their shack on newly revitalized Freret Street.
“You don’t become a hot dog guy by design,” Murray says. “It happens through fate.” In Murray’s case, the journey began while seeking softball companions in the United Kingdom, his home for 25 years. (“They don’t play softball there, they play cricket,” he says.) Out of desperation, he tried to join a women’s league. They refused, but did refer him to another league, which agreed to let him in. His team later asked him to cater the end-of-season party and he lashed together an ad-hoc assortment of German wieners and French buns, rounding it out with Cajun seasoning and a cooler of beer. A few days later he got a call from Major League Baseball International, an organization that promotes baseball worldwide, that tasked him with feeding franks to the UK’s Little League World Series. One thing led to another and soon his company was ensconced in schools and pubs throughout England. “And that,” Murray explains, “is how I became the UK Hot Dog King.”
Hurricane Katrina brought him back across the pond to fix his family home. He saw the building on Freret Street, thought about the college kids from Chicago and New York City – hot dog towns – and saw a demand. After fatefully reconnecting with Georges, they decided to take a chance.
Dat Dogs is all about the dogs. The short but savory menu culls Murray’s favorites from both the region and the world. The Polish kielbasa gets its bite from garlic, paprika and pepper, while the German bratwurst gets oomph from the smoke. Louisiana products are represented with locally made hot sausage, along with alligator and crawfish versions. Purists will love the German wiener – the quintessential hot dog. “All of our dogs have a casing,” Murray says, “for that all-important snap.” Steamed sourdough buns are grilled on the outside and chewy on the inside, and toppings (no additional charge) include the usual suspects along with unexpected choices such as wasabi and guacamole.
The only downside to Dat Dogs is the limited seating, a shortcoming to be remedied by their expansion across the street sometime this fall. “But all in all, this tiny shed has become something I take a lot of pride in. Dat Dogs has a soul,” Murray says, “because it’s a labor of love.”
How many James Beard Award-winning chefs work with hot dogs? There may not be a firm number, but I know Cochon Butcher has one: Stephen Stryjewski. “We were a little nervous about selling a high-end hot dog at first,” he says, “but it has proved to be incredibly popular.” His version is a beef frank with (fittingly) a little pork fat mixed in. A natural sheet casing gives it a snap. “We ran it for a while without the casing because we were trying to keep it from curling up,” he explains, “but in the end we decided we needed the snap more than we needed it to be straight.”
The poached dogs are griddled for crispness before being nested into their house-made bun, a variation on Cochon’s potato rolls. Order yours “all the way” and it arrives with coleslaw, tangy bread and butter chips and black-eyed pea chili. For variation, consider topping it with their pimento cheese for a deep-South twist. “My favorite is just with mustard and sauerkraut, though,” he says.
Tru Burger on Oak Street slings dogs alongside their namesake beef patties. Their wiener of choice comes from Zweigle’s in Rochester, N.Y. Owner and chef Aaron Burgau heard about them from his friend and mentor, chef Gerard Maras. “We tasted Sabrett, Vienna and Nathan’s, but in the end figured we’d rather serve something just as good that not as many people knew about,” he explains. “It is up there with the big boys, but has a little different flavor. And being the only place in the city to get them makes it unique.”
The casing-free dogs get nested in steamed-then-griddled Sheila Partin’s sourdough buns. Toppings include both sweet and dill relishes and Sabrett’s sauerkraut. House-made slaw and chili are extra. “I like mine pretty simple – a little chili and a little onion and mustard,” says Burgau. Round yours out with a malt and their house-cut fries.
While Lucky Dogs are closely identified with New Orleans through their iconic and literary merits, let’s be “frank” – there’s nothing particularly New Orleans-y about the taste. Parkway Bakery, on the other hand, dresses their dog in New Orleans style. The all-beef frank is split down the middle and cooked on the grill, then nested in a section of Leidenheimer’s French bread, where it gets dolled up with the poor boy treatment. Round it out with chili and cheese and it gets as messy as a Parkway poor boy should be.
Finally, Gott Gourmet on Magazine Street offers a true Chicago-style version. The steamed poppy seed bun is topped with a vinegary assortment of condiments including celery seed, sport peppers and iridescent green relish. If you like heat and acidity, this is your dog.
For those who prefer to eat their dogs in the comfort of their own home, Butcher sells packages for retail purchase (check out the case near the front). Also, check out their skinny little fennel-studded breakfast sausages – delicious.
Kosher Cajun in Metairie sells excellent Empire National and gluten-free Wise Organic Kosher Beef Hot Dogs in the grocery cases in the back.
How Much is That Doggy?
5031 Freret St.
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
3100 Magazine St.
The Kosher Cajun
3519 Severn Ave.
538 Hagan Ave.
8115 Oak St.