Thursday, 28 July 2011
The Dogfather and Big Apple Hot Dogs
I'm not even sure it's possible to make a completely inedible hot dog. I'm in no frantic hurry to test this theory out of course - I do have some dignity - but surely if even your local multiplex can produce something worth eating (even if it does cost a million pounds and has been kept warm out on those weird roller heater things for weeks on end) then anywhere can. I have always enjoyed a hot dog, not matter how basic; there is just a certain minimum standard in even the cheapest Frankfurters, and if you can't find it within yourself to enjoy a tube of salty mystery meat inside a bun with a bit of yellow "mustard" squirted on top then there's really no hope for you. Those other American fast food stalwarts, burgers, require skill, good ingredients, and a bit of attention, otherwise you end up with a complete disaster. Hot dogs are easy - even out of a tin they're pretty tasty, and there aren't many other foodstuffs of any kind you can say that about.
But just because the minimum standard of hot dogs is that much higher than other types of fast food doesn't mean that the top-end can't benefit from some attention. A few new street food stalls in London have, in the last few months, attempted to prove that there is more to the humble 'dog than law-dodging West-end traders and criminally marked-up cinema snacks. The Dogfather, who pitches up at the North Cross Road market in East Dulwich, is the first worth a mention. Using beef sausages similar (in fact suspiciously similar... saying no more) to those used in the excellent Meatwagon chilli dogs, the Dogfather dogs are dressed in a variety of fancy ways, from the Mexican Elvis (chilli and cheese and peppers) to the Snoop Dog (bacon, barbecue sauce and mayonnaise) and even a curry-themed version called (ho ho) the Slum Dog. I was impressed not only with the sausage itself, which was wonderfully dense and rich, but with the fact that the dressings had been conceived as a harmonious balance of ingredients in different and distinct styles, instead of just a random selection of toppings left to the customer to use as they wish. I enjoyed it very much.
If I'm going to be perfectly honest though, while I appreciated the flamboyant Dogfather and the unpretentiously filthy Meatwagon chilli dog, it wasn't until a visit to the Big Apple Hot Dog stall on Old Street that I really understood just how good this humble snack could be. Big Apple's trick isn't to glam up the toppings or play to any preconceived ideas of US fast food authenticity but to work directly with a butcher to produce a sausage that is just better than anything available anywhere else. Free-range pork is the secret ingredient, I was told, and it really shows - the sausages (I had something called a Big Frank) are almost as soft inside as mousse, with an amazing pig flavour that lingers late on the tongue and a butteryness that showcases an addictive fat content without being unpleasantly greasy. Texture, too, is provided by a firm and glossy casing which "snaps" delightfully on every bite, as well as a layer of crunchy onions beneath, fried (I know this because I saw him do it from scratch) in butter and thyme. The basic format of any hot dog you have ever tried is there - sausage, onions, bun - but the obvious care and attention that has gone into that sausage makes the end result rather special indeed. I ate mine with a healthy dollop of Polish mustard and a can of Sprite. Heaven.
I would ordinarily have signed off this post with some clichéd tribute to London's street food renaissance, about how the most exciting cooking in the capital right now is by a group of individuals serving great food directly to their customers without the distraction of service and tablecloths or even cutlery. But actually, Big Apple Hot Dogs have already gone big time. Hawksmoor Seven Dials are currently showcasing Big Apple's superb creation on their bar menu, alongside the famous Hawksmoor burger and the £25 lobster roll, and so if you want to enjoy your Big Frank in a proper grown up restaurant accompanied by a dry martini, then head to Covent Garden. I think myself though I'll continue to take the bus to Old Street, and not just for reasons of cost. There's something inexplicably right about standing up by a busy high street filling your face with meat and mustard - perhaps the best place for street food is, after all, the street.
The Dogfather 7/10
Big Apple Hot Dogs 8/10
Pictures, from the top:
The Big Apple Hot Dog stand, Old Street
The Dogfather, East Dulwich (pic courtesy of Food Stories)
Onions frying on the Big Apple hot plate, Old Street
The Big Frank from Big Apple Hot Dogs