Defending the hot dog in all its permutations
Published: December 8, 2010
Whatever you want to call it — a hot dog, a frankfurter, a red hot, a wiener — this is one confection that seldom gets the respect it deserves. It's sort of a sore spot: As Detroiters, we may not be proud enough that our major contribution to Midwestern cuisine is the coney dog. Perhaps the coney doesn't stack up well next to Maryland's crab cakes, New England's clam chowder, or San Francisco's cioppino. Maybe it stands in the shadows of Creole étouffée, Albuquerque's green chili or Chicago's deep-dish pizza. Even that old wag H.L. Mencken once dismissed the frankfurters of his day as "a cartridge filled with the sweepings of abattoirs."
But the coney really is our regional treasure, usually dressed in working-class glory with beef chili, raw diced onions and a strip of yellow mustard. What's more, it's just one of a slew of regional meat sandwiches vying for attention, a field of contenders that includes Cleveland's Polish boy, Philadelphia's cheese steak sandwich, Chicago-style dogs, Arizona's "sonorans," Southern slaw dogs, Hawaiian "puka" dogs and many more variations. With casual dining reaching new heights, are we ready to re-evaluate the hot dog as a genuine culinary creation? Maybe not. But even that old sourpuss Mencken entertained the possibility more than 80 years ago:
"Throw off the chains of the frankfurter! There should be dogs for all appetites, all tastes, all occasions. They should come in rolls of every imaginable kind and accompanied by every sort of relish from Worcestershire sauce to chutney. The common frankfurter, with its tough roll and its smear of mustard, should be abandoned as crude and hopeless ... The hot dog should be elevated to the level of an art form."
We hope that, with this short and incomplete guide, we can show our readers a few places where the dog is unchained.
American Coney Island 114 W. Lafayette, Detroit; 313-961-7758: Here's where you can get your dressed-up dogs with all fixings. The frank has a natural casing that gives quite a satisfying snap when you bite into it. Coneys are topped with chopped, mild white onion and mustard, and with a chili made with richly seasoned ground beef. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Auntie Anne's in Fairlane Town Center, 18900 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-441-1905: This pretzel chain serves a variety of tempting pretzel dogs. Forget about the buns. Get your hot dog wrapped with Auntie Anne's flavorful, famous pretzels and topped with jalapeño. For a meal or a snack, pretzel dogs are surprisingly handy and filling.
Bob E's Super Chief 340 W. Walton Blvd., Pontiac; 248-333-2028: Bob E's gets high marks for serving its franks on toasted buns. Mouthwatering hot dogs are served with "Miami sauce," which is mustard mixed with mayo and steak sauce. The dining area is small, so pick up your order if you treasure your personal space when digging in.
Bucharest Grill 2040 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3111: Bucharest Grill is often tagged as a Middle Eastern restaurant for its tasty, inexpensive shawarma, but it has a whole section of the menu dedicated to "gourmet dogs." Its dog selection ranges from the local Detroiter, a sausage with coney chili sauce, onions and cheese, to the Berliner, a sausage covered in sauerkraut, onions and your choice of mild or spicy mustard.
Famous Izzy's Restaurant and Bakery 20733 13 Mile Rd., Roseville; 586-294-6750: This east side sandwich shop has earned a loyal following based on the size of its portions. It's the home of the 7-pound steak burger (which the menu describes as "not for wimps"), and sandwiches that aren't just double-deckers or triple-deckers — but four-deckers so tall they have to be served on skewers. In such an environment, you might expect the focus to be on quantity while the quality slides. Thankfully, Izzy's pays attention to the details. Their policy prohibits sharing sandwiches, but that's no problem, as we can confirm that the doggie bag from one of their $10 "Ex-Wife Specials" can last you three lunches at work. See also their "Mile High" cakes — cakes so big they are decorated with little cakes of their own. But for hot doggers, here is the grandest creation of all, a frankfurter that's more than 2 feet long, 25 inches in all, weighing in at a half-pound. Truly, Izzy's is a land of the giants.
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 2:11 a.m. Speaking of which, its infamous $2.11 coney dog is what you'll likely try when stopping in during the wee hours.
Gourmet Hot Dogs 2 E. John R, Detroit; 313-646-8055: Open for just about a year, in Good Girls Go to Paris' old space — on the corner of John R at the alley behind Woodward — Gourmet Hotdogs seems more like a hotdog stand rather than a restaurant. There is no seating, only a window to serve customers, but the confections that pass through it include many regional spins on the traditional hot dog. Self-dubbed as the "Home of the Cleveland-Style Polish Boy" — a Polish sausage that's already grilled, then dunked into a deep-fryer for a crisper texture to the skin, and finally topped with a heaping layer of cole slaw and fries, and finished with their special signature barbecue-based sauce. It's very affordable, at just $4. And that's just one of Gourmet's regional offerings, which include Italian sausage with grilled green peppers and onions, the "Detroit Dog of Champions" with cole slaw, cheese and chili, a turkey Polish dog, a "Hot and Spicy Dog," a slaw dog, a New York dog, a veggie dog, and an "All-American Hot Dog" with onions, relish, mustard and ketchup. One of their biggest sellers is the "Big Lew," an all-beef, quarter-pound hot dog with add-ons to order. All dogs come in an easy-to carry plastic case, wrapped inside tin foil. Be sure to ask the charismatic manager, Josh, for extra napkins. You'll need them.
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