Alibi V.22 No.3 • Jan 17-23, 2013 

Restaurant Review

Hot Dogs in Evening Wear

Street food steps out at Urban Hotdog Company

The crafty dog.
The crafty dog.
Eric Williams
Gourmet hot dogs.

How does that phrase make you feel? Confused? Enraged? Titillated? Morally adrift? Hot dogs are culturally and politically iconic. We project a lot onto hot dogs: they’re the egalitarian food, the movable food; they represent all-American momentum and nostalgia.

Unless they represent poverty, industrial meat and squalor.

They’re a perfectly respectable metropolitan lunch food if you eat them on foot, or at a ballpark or campfire. But good God, whatever you do, don’t cut them up into soups or casseroles unless you’re trying to be ironic or you have kids. Hot dogs, like sweatpants, are loved but not respected.

The Italian dog features pomodoro sauce and fresh mozzarella.
The Italian dog features pomodoro sauce and fresh mozzarella.
Eric Williams
Enter Urban Hotdog Company. Enter the gourmet hot dog. Enter cultural confusion.

UHDC opened their doors three months ago in a strip center near Cottonwood Mall. Their approach is to doll up a Nathan’s Famous all-beef frankfurter with everything under the sun—particularly foodie favorites like fancy cheeses, fresh herbs, slaws and sauces.

UHDC fits hand in glove into the greater Cottonwood Mall franchise-scape: slick and vaguely corporate like a Starbucks of hot dogs. But it’s not. Urban Hotdog Co. is a locally owned and operated island unto itself. And they attempt to buy local ingredients including Lusty Monk mustard, goat cheese from Old Windmill Dairy and buns from Pastian’s bakery.

Let’s shanghai the pedestrian hot dog, says UHDC, and buy it a passport. Wieners in Puerto Vallarta! (The spicy rooster with pico de gallo, queso fresco and avocado salsa.) Wieners in Singapore! (Tiger dog with an Asian slaw, fresh pea shoots, crushed wasabi peas and peanuts on a poppy seed bun.) Wieners in Paris! (Le bleu wrapped with bacon, sautéed mushrooms, bleu cheese and thyme.)

Let’s shanghai the pedestrian hot dog, says UHDC, and buy it a passport.

Dried wasabi peas give the tiger dog a spicy bite.
Dried wasabi peas give the tiger dog a spicy bite.
Eric Williams
Note to the traditionalists: UHDC includes old standards like the NYC (spicy brown mustard, sauerkraut and onions), the Chicago dog, the chile dog, and yes, just a simple-Simon concession stand dog of ketchup, mustard, onion and relish. They call that the starter ($3.25).

So there I was on the West Side with an excited group of friends. Even the hot dog non-enthusiasts amongst us were intrigued by my promises of gourmet hot dogs. We split five different dogs and concluded that the comfort food trifecta known as the crafty dog ($5.25)—a Nathan’s Famous with a heap of creamy baked mac and cheese and strewn with delectable fresh-from-the pan bacon—was our favorite.

We also really dug the tiger dog ($5.75), with Asian coleslaw, pea shoots sprinkled with dried wasabi peas and peanuts. Put pea shoots on anything and it’s instantly pretty, but more than that, this hot dog makes you wonder if you’ve been thinking about hot dogs all wrong. That maybe hot dogs deserve a place in the kitchen. The tiger was fresh and textured and beefy. This could only work with a high quality all-beef dog like Nathan’s Famous or Hebrew National.

 Onion strings are dusted with ancho chile flour and served with chipotle aioli sauce.
Onion strings are dusted with ancho chile flour and served with chipotle aioli sauce.
Eric Williams
For the hot dog non-enthusiasts, they also have a few sausage options—a spicy, Italian sausage beautifully decked with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and pomodoro sauce ($5.95). You can satisfy both your beer hall and pastoral cravings with a bratwurst soaked in Guinness, piled with sugared-beets, goat cheese and mint; also a Polish sausage with grilled onions and yellow mustard ($5.95) and a turkey dog with mushrooms and fresh herbs ($4.95). And for the vegetarians they have conjured the curry dog ($5.25) in which the “dog” is grilled tofu with curried veggies, peanuts and cilantro on top. If you want more satisfaction for less cash, though, I recommend a savory pile of fries instead.

UHDC calls their side menu “Bells and Whistles.” Here we stick to the familiar territory of picnic and fast food standards—baked beans, mac and cheese and coleslaw (the most refreshing thing served in house other than a tall glass of water). But there are also some adventurous choices—you can get your French fried potatoes five different ways, from plain Jane to rosemary, bleu cheese, or chives and truffle oil. If standard taters aren’t your fancy, you can down a batch of crispy, blistered sweet potato fries or, another group favorite, the flossy, crunchy golden onion-string fries, dredged in an ancho chile flour served with chipotle aioli sauce.

Eric Williams
In the end we decided that each of the dogs we tried, were, in a word: delicious. Yet they remained distinctly hot dogs. So the conceptual struggle continued—not a struggle of snobbery—more a struggle with mild absurdity: Here I am paying $5.75 for a tricked-out hot dog.

It reminds me of the boutique cupcake trend, of the artisan marshmallow rage, of the new opulence of hamburgers and the reinvention of doughnuts. Part of me is giddy as hell about it and part of me thinks, but wait … now I can’t afford to eat cupcakes. But hey, I could just make some cupcakes at home.

The same might be said for Urban Hotdog Company, but let’s give them props where serious props are due. They are inventive, they are friendly, their food is damn tasty, and they are having fun. Based on their Facebook page popularity after only three months, it appears that they are giving the people—from hot dog purists to foodies—what they want.

View in Alibi Chowtown Chowtown

Urban Hotdog Company

10250 Cottonwood Park NW Suite 400 H
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Price range: $3 to $6
Vibe: Urbane casual
Vegetarian options: Yes.
Gluten-free dogs by special request
Extras: Urban Dog punch card. Your 12th hot dog is free.
Alibi Recommends: Onion strings, crafty dog, tiger Dog and italian Dog.