From vegetarian options to a veritable arms race of exotic toppings, the humble hot dog is getting new attention, and some respect.
The hot dog has long been treated like the punching bag of the food world, or at least the punch line. It’s the poor cousin to the sausage, and the cookout item of last resort once all the burgers are spoken for. Hot dogs, historically, have not gotten much respect.
But that is changing, and now, these dogs are having their day around New Orleans. Some of the same high-profile chefs who have championed the idea of house-made meats have turned their attention to the once-humble hot dog. See Donald Link’s upscale sandwich shop Butcher or John Besh’s nearby American Sector restaurant for two examples.
However, for those who still regard the hot dog as an easy, cheap, no-complaints item to throw at the kids, what may be even more surprising than the attention of name chefs is the rise of the contemporary hot dog parlor — eateries that are dedicated to weenies and that seem to be in an arms race for ever-more extravagant toppings to pile over them.
No one has generated more buzz about hot dogs, or made eating them more cool, than Dat Dog. This place opened as a tiny, colorful shed on Freret Street. The line of customers quickly extended out the door and, within a year, the whole operation moved across the street into much bigger digs. And, people followed to line right back up again for hot dogs and sausages served on crusty, over-sized sourdough buns and dressed with everything from mustard in zigzagging patterns to sour cream and wasabi. This success has spawned a Dat Dog vending cart sometimes seen at festivals or outside of barrooms, and plans for a second Dat Dog are now well underway on Magazine Street.
The example was not lost on other aspiring restaurateurs, and more hot dog parlors have followed. In the French Quarter, there’s the evocatively-named Dreamy Weenies. Their motto, “all three in one spot, no mixing pots,” is their pledge to respect Kosher, Halal and vegan choices, so the kitchen serves hot dogs that comply with those dietary strictures and promises not to cook your veggie dog on the same grill that just sizzled up someone else’s beef sausage. Here, you find the meatless Middle Eastern-esque “falafel weenie” or an all-bean-based link, while toppings run from the standard ballpark condiments to curry sauce, grits and red beans and rice.
Next there’s Diva Dawg, a neat little hot dog spot in the Lower Garden District, where the theme is distinctly Creole — albeit Creole turned dog gone wild. The chili for the chili dog is a riff on red beans, the ketchup is made with andouille sausage, there’s an étouffee dog, a BBQ shrimp dog, and dogs topped with fried chicken, with oysters or with Zapps potato chips, a snack usually seen next to a hot dog, not necessarily over it.
People may need a knife and fork to dig into some of these hot dog creations, but boy do they dig in. From vegetarians thrilled to find an old time comfort food staple now on their terms, to the extreme eater out to see just how many different flavors a single weenie can handle, it’s a new day for dogs that run a little outside the pack.
945 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-528-1940
930 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, 504-588-7675
5031 Freret St., New Orleans, 504-899-6883
1906 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-533-4825
740 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, 504-872-0157