With baseball season upon us and rooftops everywhere preparing to be invaded for summertime parties, it’s time to celebrate the hot dog. Though often seen as mere stadium fare, in recent months, haute hot dogs eateries — those serving franks made with organic beef and served in house-made rolls — have taken up residence in the borough.
Here’s how they rank:
The Gold Standard
Just off Coney Island’s boardwalk, and steps from the infamous “Cyclone,” is Nathan’s Famous. One squeezes in among the throngs who frequent this 91-year-old institution, to order the dog of all dogs. The all-beef dog, which is “bigger-than-the-bun” as the slogan goes, arrives hot off the grill, nestled in its fluted paper tray. The meat has plenty of snap, and is spicier and a little greasier than the contenders below. There’s nothing fancy about the warm white bread bun (forget “house-baked”), yet it lends an ideal proportion of bread to meat. With hot sauerkraut and a squirt of the soupy, tangy mustard, Nathan’s Famous is the dog to beat.
You’re hot, dawg
Willie’s Dawgs is a labor of love for Ellen Lutter and her husband Tom Anderson, who opened their Park Slope eatery in February. Their place is a real “dawg” lover destination. A huge mural of franks showcase their obsession.
Of the three dawgs I tried here, the “Mutt,” an all-beef frank with natural casing, outshone the all-natural beef, skinless “Pedigree,” as well as the haughty “Best in Show” (grass-fed with a natural casing). The Mutt had more personality than the others, but, of course, mutts always do. This lusty frank had “lots of snap” as the menu claimed, and could compete with the heft of the fresh baked, hand-made challah roll (you can opt for rye or multi-grain). The other two were softer to the bite and on the sweet side — and both were overwhelmed by the buns. One side not to be found in other hot dog joints: Yonah Shimmel knishes.
No pedigree, but good
Hot Diggity Dog in Windsor Terrace is a no-frills setup with a few stools, a tiny counter with a view of the immaculate kitchen and a ketchup and mustard color scheme. Order a “Brooklyn Dog” with mustard, sauerkraut and onions, and it arrives in its spry paper dish, hot and crisp around the edges. The servicable bun and kraut are warm, and the house-made onion topping is slow-cooked and delicious. Sans roll and topping, the all-natural Boars Head beef dog is excellent: great snap, richly spiced. Add 75 cents for fresh chili with a good kick of spice.
Dog day afternoon
Another do-gooder in the quest for a healthy frank is Brian Benavidez, who opened Sparky’s in Williamsburg in 2002. Benavidez offers all-natural, hickory-smoked, hormone-and-antibiotic free all-beef hot dogs from Niman Ranch. All the toppings and secondary menu items like sandwiches and burgers employ “locally raised, grass-fed, humanely treated beef, chicken and pork with no hormones or antibiotics.” Even the ice cream is “artisannally made.” So, Benavidez gets the prize for good intentions. Every dog has its day though, and I stopped in when Sparky’s was having a bad one.
I ordered the “Number 10” (sauerkraut and mustard). Unwrapping the foil cover, I found a cold, barely boiled, beige dog topped with frigid sauerkraut. The icey bun was soaked with kraut juice. I took one bite of the snapless, spiceless meat and…yuck! Why continue eating? I can’t blame the lousy output on a rushed kitchen staff either. At 1:30 pm on a Saturday, the place was nearly empty. As for ambience, imagine a cement box with wooden tables and a beamed ceiling — excited yet?
A few blocks from Sparky’s is Kitchen Delight, a simple setup with a few tables and a big take-out business of “gotta have it” food like franks, burgers and Philly cheese steaks. The grilled hot dog with sauerkraut and spicy mustard was very good (indeed, it was nearly stellar compared to the Sparky’s frank we consumed just an hour or so earlier). The folks at Kitchen Delight use all-beef Sabrett hot dogs served hot off the grill. They possess plenty of snap, their spiciness enhanced with a smear of Dijon style mustard. The tasty white rolls were just dense enough to support, yet not detract from, the dog.
Hot Diggity Dog (263 Prospect Park West between 17th Street and Prospect Avenue in Windsor Terrace) is open Monday through Saturday from 11 am – 9 pm and on Sunday from 11 am – 8 pm. For information, call (718) 499-0008.
Kitchen Delight (167 N. Eighth St. at Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg) is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11:30 am – 2 am and Thursday through Sunday from11:30 am – 5 am. Free delivery. Subway: L to Bedford Avenue. For information, call (718) 486-3663.
Nathan’s Famous (1310 Surf Ave., at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island) is open from 8 am – 2 am daily. Subway: F, D, N or Q to Stillwell Avenue. For information, call (718) 946-2202 or www.nathansfamous.com
Sparky’s All–American Food (135 N. Fifth St., between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street in Williamsburg) is open from Monday through Saturday from noon – 11 pm; Sunday from noon – 2 am. Free delivery. Subway: L to Bedford Avenue. For information, call (718) 302-5151.
Willie’s Dawgs (351 Fifth Ave., between Fourth and Fifth streets in Park Slope) is open 11:30 am –Ã¢â‚¬â€š9 pm Sunday through Thursday; on Friday and Saturday Willie’s is open until midnight. No delivery. For information, call (718) 832-2941.