Roll Over, Nathan’s: Hot Dogs Go Haute With Lamb, Truffle, Baguette

Grabbing a hot dog these days ain’t what it used to be. The traditional frankfurter has been literally turned on

Grabbing a hot dog these days ain’t what it used to be. The traditional frankfurter has been literally turned on its head.

“Usually, you have this horizontal sausage, and you really can’t eat it while you’re walking—you’ve got stuff falling everywhere,” said Mike Hewitt, chief operating officer for Dogmatic Gourmet Sausage System, located at 26 East 17th Street. “We’ve turned it into a pedestrian meal. It’s a vertical sausage that you can actually eat walking down the street.”

A modest food cart in Bleecker Park before it became a full-fledged restaurant last October, Dogmatic is the latest in a series of New York City ventures attempting to elevate the old tubesteak—in a purely culinary sense, of course, though devouring one of Dogmatic’s $4.50 artisanal baguette-encased offerings can make one feel, as one female diner remarked, “as if you are fellating your lunch.”

A large, cartoonish mural on its left wall, rendered in black and white, offers customers in line a glimpse at this New Sausage Standard.

“You see these really happy cows,” pointed out Mr. Hewitt, 34. “The magician is turning them from a cow into sausage, and from there they’re moving all the way to Union Square and getting delivered to our restaurant. Free-range chickens, the very happily frolicking pigs over there. And then you have the mad scientist making the sauces over here. We also wanted to splash a little bit of our food philosophy in there—no hormones, no antibiotics, no steroids.”

So much for the mystery meat of yore—“Lips and assholes!” as the comic Dan Aykroyd quips in The Great Outdoors. Transparency and local sourcing are the buzzwords for today’s dogs.

“I used to get these really bad headaches whenever I ate more than two hotdogs,” said Kyle Bailey, executive chef at Allen & Delancey on the Lower East Side. “It was the preservatives and all the fake things and chemicals they put in.”

Mr. Bailey, 28, now makes his own sausage from ground pork shoulder—a cut of meat usually reserved for roasting—featuring it prominently in a gourmet version of the McDonald’s breakfast biscuit.

“The hot dog is a very New York thing, and bringing it to the forefront, almost like to the future in a sense, modernizing it, I think, was a great challenge,” said Mr. Hewitt of Dogmatic. “We took it from a very pedestrian, dirty-water dog, like they call ’em, and brought ’em to the next level.”

Popularized decades ago by noted purveyors Nathan Handwerker on Coney Island and “Papaya King” Gus Poulos on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the frank has gotten a modern makeover at various other places around town in recent years.

Crif Dogs on St. Marks Place wraps its dogs in bacon and adds all sorts of toppings beyond the usual mustard, onions and relish, ranging from avocados and sour cream to pineapples and teriyaki sauce.

Willie’s Dawgs in Park Slope, Brooklyn, advertised franks made from gourmet grass-fed beef shipped from the highly ethical Niman Ranch of Alameda, Calif., served on your choice of challah, rye or multigrain bread. The p.c. parents who dominate that nabe can also choose chicken, turkey, or tofu dogs—even a grilled marinated carrot!

Dogmatic sells poultry, pork, beef and lamb options, as well as asparagus, which is, as the menu properly warns, “not a sausage.”

“It’s a couple of asparagus spears, a little bit of olive oil and salt, grilled so they’re nice and smoky,” Mr. Hewitt said.

Each offering is topped with a choice of fancy homemade sauces, including truffle Gruyère, mint yogurt and sun-dried tomato feta. The baguette is baked locally by Pain D’Avignon in Long Island City.

Prior to serving, the bread is stuck on a hot metal spike. “Within three minutes, we have this bread that’s golden inside,” Mr. Hewitt said, “and it actually retains the heat and retains the sausage and the sauce in this hole, so you don’t have any mess.”

Actually, the messy part is at the end. The sauce tends to collect at the bottom of the baguette and spills out during the final bites. “Then it gets juicy,” Mr. Hewitt conceded. “A little surprise there at the end.”

And business appears to be booming. Barely four months after opening, Mr. Hewitt is already thinking of ways to expand Dogmatic’s menu, with perhaps a seafood option. “Probably a delicious shrimp sausage with a natural casing and a spicy Thai paste sauce would be a hit,” he said.

He’s also mulling a little Moby Dick on the menu. “We could possibly look into a whale sausage. I just had whale for the first time. Whale is the new red meat. They call it the cow of the ocean.” But what of the blubber? “Believe it or not, it’s very tasty, low-fat, depending on where you get it.”

cshott@observer.com

Roll Over, Nathan’s: Hot Dogs Go Haute With Lamb, Truffle, Baguette