Monday, August 22, 2011

[HOT LIST] Hot dogs

"The Frenchy" at Rosie O'Grady's, Ferndale. All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

No, NOT Coneys ... we'll get to that eventually, but Detroit's Coney dog scene is well-documented enough already. What isn't well-documented is the quietly-growing gourmet hot dog trend. It makes sense: Detroit is so close to Chicago and Toronto (Chicago, where hot dogs are SERIOUS business, and Toronto - even Windsor - with the best damn street hot dog vendors in North America) that their cosmopolitan processed meat influence had to take hold eventually. Unfortunately some of the budding flowers of the metro Detroit gourmet hot dog scene have already been stomped back into the ground before they were able to fully bloom - the owner of the building that housed Gourmet Hot Dogs on John R (where a certain crepe stand once called home) decided the space would be better served as an ATM, while legal woes with investors have temporarily closed the brand-new Big City Dogs in Clawson - but the desire is still strong here for a hot dog with anything other than chili. We shall overcome, etc.

The truth is, gourmet dogs are in Detroit's blood. With local meatpacking companies like Koegel Meats (those Viennas in natural casing with the signature SNAP when you bite into them is the stuff Coneys are made of), Dearborn Sausage Co., and Kowalski Meats, it's kind of a shame these tasty dogs get buried under all that chili and onion. Don't worry, there are still hundreds of Coney Islands where hot dogs come no other way and WE'LL GET TO THAT ... but for now ... here's something a little different.Whether loaded up with toppings or so good you want to eat them plain, here's some of our favorite local weiners. (*snicker*)

#1 Hippo's Hot Dogs (Troy; Clinton Township)
There's really only two things Chicago does exceedingly and consistently well, and that's steakhouses and hot dogs. Chicago is a meatpacking town, and as much as it's now trying to all fancify itself to compete with the coasts, it can't, it doesn't, it won't. But. They have some good goddurn hot dogs. Maybe you've heard of Hot Doug's? Hippo's has been doing the Chicago-style dog since 1988. What makes a hot dog Chicago-style is "dragging it through the garden:" chopped white onions, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers, a dill pickle spear, neon-green sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard and celery salt (or some variation of that). Here it's just called the "Hippo Dog," but it doesn't stop there. Hippo's has about a dozen other gourmet dogs including the "Polish Hippo" - same thing, only with charbroiled all-beef Polish sausage.

#2 Bucharest Grill (downtown Detroit)
There is a temptation to call Bucharest Grill the best-kept secret in Detroit, except it's not much of a secret and no one's keeping it. Their garlicky chicken shawarma is legendary in late-night and lunch circles (being essentially inside the favored local hangout Park Bar has certainly helped that reputation along), but they do serve other food. Their "Gourmet Dog" menu offers six options of knockwurst, bratwurst, and kielbasa dogs, which include the knockwurst-based Coney-style "Detroiter," as well as the "Hamtramck" with kielbasa, braised red cabbage, bacon and grainy mustard on a sesame seed bun. For funsies try the simple 1920 Red Hot, a spicy "old school" dog with grainy mustard.  Do this while drinking a full cold beer.

Best damn ballpark mustard, period. Served at Ford Field.
#3 Rosie O'Grady's (Ferndale; Sterling Heights; Chesterfield)
The 10'' USDA choice beef dogs in natural casings are custom-made just for Rosie O'Grady's, as are the artisan buns steamed to order. Choose from over a dozen "special" and "super special" dogs, including the Frenchy with sauteed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, bacon and Dijon mustard; and the New Yorker with sauerkraut, yellow mustard, and onion-spiked ketchup. For $3 add a side of their garlic parmesan French fries or their homemade onion rings, which are basically like pillowy deep-fried doughnuts with onions inside.

#4 Zack's Hot Dogs (Clinton Township; Warren [coming soon])
Zack's Hot Dogs differentiates their dogs by "snap" and Kosher-style skinless - an important distinction to make for the serious hot dog connoisseur. The "snaps" are natural casing dogs; Kosher are those beautiful all-beef, plump, juicy dogs - your classic ballpark frank. We could start getting into the specifics of Vienna vs. frankfurter vs. weiner which refers to whether they are beef, pork, or a mixture, but that's a whole lot of extra hot dog etymology. For our purposes, Zack's - a Baltimore-based chain that gets its dogs from Chicago's century-old Vienna Beef - covers the major bases, serving only all-beef regionally-inspired dogs.

#5 Tortitas El Rojito (Southwest Detroit)
Who loves gas station food in Southwest Detroit? We do. For as much lip service as Southwest's taco carts and taquerias get nowadays, the happy hot dog seems all but forgotten. Luckily the folks at Tortitas El Rojito haven't forgotten the joys of this Anglo-American treat, and they've added their own Mexican spin; they wrap it up in bacon, cover it in grilled onions, add tomato, ketchup, yellow mustard, and two kinds of homemade salsas.

Bubbling under The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village (Dearborn), Ford Field (Detroit), Lowe's and Home Depot (various locations throughout metro Detroit), Motor City Franks (Ferndale, mobile cart), Detroit Underdog (Ferndale, mobile cart)

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