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.
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.
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.
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.
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.