There might not be a more quintessentially American summer food than the hot dog. When the weather gets hot, franks get the backyard grill treatment, feeding packs of kids damp from a Slip 'n' Slide. Hots are served from wheeled carts to people looking for a quick, workday lunch. And perhaps unlucky wieners lazily roll on convenience store heating elements, waiting to be paired with Coke slushies and purchased as a road trip snack.
You might argue that the hamburger has the hot dog beat as the classic American summer sandwich. But burgers don't get the same kind of regional treatment as hot dogs, which speaks to the hot dog's culinary pervasiveness. Cincinnati piles its dogs with cheese and cinnamon-scented chili; NYC likes them snappy with yellow mustard, sauerkraut and sweet, cooked onions; Chicago heaps on raw onions, tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, relish and celery salt. And that's just the start; check online at bit.ly/USAhotdogs for a state-by-state overview.
With summer upon us, it's time to enjoy the weather and eat hot dogs. Dogtown is a fine place to do both.
The menu offers up almost 20 hot dog variations, each focused on an American or International frankfurter style. Dogtown also serves sandwiches, burgers, plates, vegetarian options, and daily specials.
The hot dog selection starts with a Zweigle's German Style Frank, which is slimmer and longer than the more familiar pop-open red hot. It doesn't snap when bitten into, nor is it mushy. The flavor is mild with a hint of nutmeg, like baloney, making it a good foundation on which to build different creations. The buns are cut-to-size Martusciello's Bakery's French bread, the bulk of which makes it a little tough to get your mouth around, but it stands up to everything that's heaped upon it. You're not going to eat these hots without making a mess.
It should be noted that the hot dog offerings are inspired by — if not totally faithful to — the originals. A move done by design, not by carelessness. For example, Dogtown's take on the NYC standard is the German Shepherd ($3.50). This style was made popular by big-name hot dog purveyors like Nathan's and Papaya King. The Shepherd is loaded with sauerkraut, sautéed onions and mustard — a good frank, but not an exact replica of the original. The sauerkraut is fairly mild and the onions are powerful, not like the Big Apple's sweet version bathed in a tomatoey sauce.
The Chicago Bulldog ($4) is piled high with mustard, relish, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, pepperoncini peppers, and celery salt. It's a riot of flavors — sweet, savory and salty — and the fresh cold toppings against the heat of the dog is appealing. Also fresh and flavorful is the Calcutta Cur ($4), flavored with Indian spices, notably cumin, and topped with a bright orange-yellow mango salsa.
With the Golden Retriever ($4), a hot dog is flanked by strips of greasy bacon and covered with melted cheddar. It reminds me of a grilled cheese stuffed with a hot dog and bacon — basically, a heart-attack on a bun. (Outside our area, this is called a danger dog.) It's too heavy and rich for my tastes, but it would do a good job offsetting a night of drinking.
The Cincinnati Red Dog ($3.50) is topped with shredded Cheddar and Dogtown sauce which is inspired by Cincinnati-style chili. This type of chili is thinner than the Tex-Mex kind, is made without beans, and seasoned with varying combinations of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and cocoa. Dogtown's version is a little different — it's a touch spicier and thicker, though a bowl of it wouldn't hold up a spoon. Another departure is the dog's assembly: instead of topping the dog with chili then cheese, Dogtown does the reverse and tops the dog with cheese before chili. This allows the cheese to melt around the dog keeping it in place and maximizing the amount of cheese that makes it into your mouth.
The German style hot dog found in each of these can be swapped out for an all-beef hot dog, veggie dog, or one of the other styles of sausage on the menu. At the suggestion of the counter staff, I ordered a Greek Stray ($4) with an Italian sausage (with a $1 upcharge). It was an excellent suggestion. The anise and garlic flavors in the sausage harmonized with the tzatziki, fresh tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, olives, and pepperoncini peppers. Split lengthwise, the sausage was seared until it developed a deep brown crust and then laid across a lightly grilled roll, cut to suit a sub sandwich.
There are a few items that miss the mark. Both the macaroni and coleslaw ($2 each) tasted flat. The split plate ($7.50) was fine but not my favorite. Here a cheeseburger and a hot dog sit on top of your choice of two sides: home fries, macaroni salad, French fries, baked beans, or coleslaw. It's then topped with mustard, onions, and Dogtown sauce — the same sauce that tops the Cincinnati Red Dog. I prefer the standard Rochester hot sauce on my plates, and missed its presence.
Still, it's easy to overlook these issues when eating al fresco on Dogtown's patio. Set back from the street, it's partially shaded by trees and a new trellis that covers about 75-pecent of the seating area. It's a nice way to get a mini-break in the middle of the workday, or to soak up the warm evening breezes while people watching.
Order a side of their gigantic onion rings ($3), too. They might not be the summer classic that hot dogs are but they are great partner for Dogtown's dogs.
Share your food and restaurant tips with Laura Rebecca Kenyon on Twitter at @LauraKenyon.