In defense of the hot dog, and in praise of those who advance the art of the frankfurter
Published: April 4, 2012
Fleetwood Diner 300 S. Ashley St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-5502: Fleetwood Diner might not be the fanciest place to eat in downtown Ann Arbor, but it's open all night, and serves up quality diner fare, so it's often crowded at 2:22 a.m. Speaking of which, its infamous $2.22 coney dog is what you'll likely try when stopping in during the wee hours.
The Ham Shoppe 330 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-965-0088: After moving into their new digs on Monroe Street last year, owner Sal and company have been trying to come up with ideas to appeal to downtown's diners. Among them is building the better hot dog. Take his Kowaski stadium-style chili dog ($2.50): It has a much larger frank at its center. Sal says he got the idea from a hot dog documentary about Atlanta's Varsity dogs — perhaps in Rick Sebak's excellent Hot Dog Program (if you haven't seen it and call yourself a dog-hound, get crackin'). We love the idea that a hot dog could be something larger, bigger, grander. (For instance, see our listing for Famous Izzy's!) We've had one of Sal's "jumbo" dogs, and our verdict is that it's not too big (not everybody feels every meal must recall competitive eating) and not too small, just right for a side of fries and a pop. Thanks to Sal for switching it up.
Hippo's Hot Dogs 1648 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-524-9778: What makes a dog Chicago-style? Start with a steamed, all-beef, natural-casing wiener. Slide it into a poppy seed bun and then "drag it through the garden" by topping it with mustard, onion, outrageously green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. It's a triple-napkin dog. A little extra cleanup is a small price to pay for the incredible fusion of flavors and textures that was invented across the lake sometime in the late 19th century. But Chicago-style isn't the only dog in the house: There are loads of choices between a bun. The slaw dog comes heaped with coleslaw and mustard. Sauerkraut and relish top a New York dog. Local cultural sensitivity is evident with the inclusion of the coney dog. Big stomachs will crave an "Ultimate Dog": a quarter-pound hot dog complete with Chicago-style toppings, sauerkraut and giardineira (hot, marinated vegetables) all smothered under double chili. Or try a "Great Scot Hippo" — it's double-sized. In addition to the diverse list of dogs you can chomp a char-broiled Polish Hippo, Cajun sausage, Italian sausage, bratwurst, a Maxwell Street Polish sausage covered with grilled onions or a Chicago Avenue Polish sausage complete with sauerkraut and a pickle. Hippo's has an entire library of tube steaks, most of which cost less than four bucks. They pride themselves on being able to offer the classic Hippo dog for $2.15. Not turned on yet? Then aim for another Chicago classic: The Italian beef sandwich. Sliced top round beef comes packed into chewy Gonnella bread, topped with sautéed green peppers, grilled onions and your choice of marinara or the more traditional Italian gravy. A few years ago, Hippo's was inducted into the Vienna Beef hot dog hall of fame. That's how serious they are. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Plus, there's a newer location at 35520 Groesbeck Hwy., Clinton Twp.; 586-790-2775; open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Lafayette Coney Island 118 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-964-8198: Quality is what makes Lafayette's plain coney dogs dependable: the thick, meaty chili sauce, fresh onion and mustard, and only all-meat franks — not the filler-laden "hot dogs" on the menu at lesser eateries. But perhaps what makes Lafayette one of the best hot dog spots in town is the character: the rattling plates, the shouted food orders and a bevy of cool characters around 2:30 a.m.
Le Dog 306 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-327-0091: This humble-looking permanent hot dog stand serves tasty hot dogs in big portions at great prices. Le Dog's delicious soups and hot dogs bring a long line of diners at lunchtime. In the winter, it's also a good place to go to for a hot, homemade soup and a hunk of Zingerman's bread for only $6. You'll be glad you did. Take out only.
Lipuma's Coney Island 621 N. Main St., Rochester; 248-652-9862: In business since 1971, Lipuma's may know a thing or two about hot dogs. And they serve all manner of hot dogs from all over the country. Sure, they have a classic coney (and Vernor's to pair it with, no less!), but they also serve Chicago-style dogs, a New York-style frank with sauerkraut, even Polish sausages on a bun. Cozy vibe and very friendly staff.
National Coney Island 1812 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-398-6111: More than 20 southeast Michigan locations, including Detroit, Roseville, Royal Oak and Clinton Twp.: Chances are you're never more than a few miles from a National Coney Island or three. Two of three Roseville locations (on Gratiot and Grosebeck), Royal Oak and Utica are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; but the ones in Clinton Township and Warren are 24-hour gigs on Fridays and Saturdays. Which might not be very helpful if you're in dire need of chili dogs at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, but it's better than trying to find something edible under the heat lamps at 7-11. Their coney dogs are served with chili, mustard and onions in a steamed bun, and they also serve plain hot dogs — and even coney burgers and tacos. National is a perennial Metro Times Best of Detroit winner.
Special thanks to editorial intern Sharon Jacobs for her assistance fact-checking this column.
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