Thursday, March 24, 2011

Being frank about Astoria's top dogs

The Completo at San Antonio Bakery II

When you really think about it, the hot dog is a trailblazer... and was sort of way ahead of its time.  Only recently has the trend turned toward glorifying the unmentionable livestock parts, once considered peasant food.  Pig snout, belly, ear, and even blood are now the star ingredients in some of the city's most highly raved dishes.  But long before the offal took the main stage, that savory tubesteak that is so quintessentially New York was turning some of those least desirable cuts into an affordable street food we so fondly associate with baseball, fairgrounds, backyard grilling, campfires, and city street vendors.

Since we live in a culinary capital, wieners are prepared in every style imaginable.  While the traditional dirty water dog is served on a classic bun with steamed onions and deli mustard, I recently embarked on a quest of the neighborhood's menus to see what unique and delicious varieties I could find.  In honor of America's affordable summertime sandwich, here's my roundup of ten of the tastiest dogs around.

#10: The hot dog and cheese pocket at Got Empanadas?

During lunchtime, $5.75 gets you this tasty twist on a hot dog, with a salad and a bottle of water.  The Dog pocket is $2.50 by itself.  The pastry crust is deliciously buttery and flaky, loaded with sliced franks.  And when you're finished, grab a dessert empanada to satiate your sweet tooth, like fudge-banana or raspberry cheesecake.

Got Empanadas? on Urbanspoon

#9: Frankenchips at Crave Astoria

Admittedly, Crave Bowls are probably something you'd order only after last call at this neighborhood joint serving food under 5 AM on weekends.  But the truth is, these dogs are delicious all day.  The Frankenchips is a skillet loaded with potato "chips", cocktail franks, jalapenos, fried onions, and cheese sauce.  Oh... and pita wedges on the side, fun for making mini jazzed up pigs in a blanket.

#8: As a topping on a loaded kumpir ("jacket potato") at La Papa

This tater/panini/salad joint opened by the guys at Mundo CafĂ© is a quaint little shop that specializes in loaded potatoes scooped and blended with butter and kasseri cheese, then reloaded and topped to order.  You can get a Turkish hot dog cooked in tomato sauce and topped with a Russian vegetable salad and a pickle, but my favorite is to have the frank sliced as a topping on my potato.  For $6, you can load it with as many toppings as you like (pictured above: beef franks, black olives, beets, artichokes, & corn)

#7: The assorted frankfurters at Wunderbar LIC

Okay, so not exactly the classic American ballpark franks, but absolutely worth a mention. At Wunderbar, the Sunday German buffet is only $12, and gains you access to over 14 classic German dishes, including their delicious knockwurst, bratwurst, and bauernwurst.  Or for $27 get a meter with a liter... a full meter of bratwurst with a Liter of draft beer, served in a glass boot.  

Wunderbar on Urbanspoon

#6: The chili and cheese dog at Crave Shack

Not to be confused with Crave, or even nearby Krave, Crave Shack is the home of New York's first Donut Bacon Cheeseburger.  But this Halal sandwich and shake shop in the Little Egypt section of Steinway serves up one incredibly delicious and messy chili cheese dog for $3.50.  Also worth a try is the Crave Dog ($3.25) with the same pepper-studded chili and crave sauce instead of cheese (almost like a house 1,000 Island dressing).

#5: Uncured Jumbo Beef Hot Dog at BareBurger

If you don't feel like spending upwards of $12 for some of the gourmet burgers at BareBurger (though I do love a BareBurger Supreme with a pistachio milkshake), this jumbo beef frank is a delicious option, and one of the tastiest in the neighborhood.  Housed in a New England style roll, this $5.95 frank comes with little cups of jalapeno relish, dill pickle relish, grilled onions, and sauerkraut.  I actually piled on all the fixins, and it was a superb lunch.

#4 "Hot Dog" at M. Wells Diner

Simply named "Hot Dog... $6" on the menu, this little puppy is a jazzed up New York classic, like a Coney dog on steroids.  Tucked in a gorgeously toasted New England style hot dog roll, this juicy frank is generously piled with a sweet chili of firm, plump beans and tiny salty charred bits of crisp bacon, all crowned with a tangy mustard grain slaw.

#3: The Slaw Dog at Queens Comfort

This puppy also comes on a New England style roll, but the juicy frank is bookended by two crispy whole strips of bacon, and then adorned with creamy cole slaw and sliced jalapenos, with a side of Zapp's potato chips shipped directly from N'Awlins.  At $5, it blows almost all competition out of the water for value and quality.  This is a top frank, southern-style.

#2: Half-Pund Kobe Beef Foot Long at 5 Napkin Burger

You might flinch at the price tag of $10.95, but once you've tasted this monster, you will return again and again.  My server tells me that maybe one dog is ordered for every ten burgers, but if people knew how incomparably delicious this all beef frank tastes, I can't imagine ever ordering a burger again.  A half pound, and at least a foot long (it was longer than my forearm!) and smothered with sauerkraut and sweet & sour onions & peppers, I recommend sharing this with a friend, along with some tater tots and a s'mores milkshake.

#1: The Completo at San Antonio Bakery II

As its name suggests, no list would be complete without the Completo, the chilean-style hot dog from San Antonio Bakery 2 that is quite possibly the most famous frank in Queens, and for great reason.  This puppy comes on its own little stand, a juicy beef frank in a warm, homemade bun, piled with sauerkraut, diced tomato, avocado puree, and a zigzag of mayonnaise.  Add a few spoonfuls of pebre, the garlicky house hot sauce (pictured at the top of this post) and you'll see why this $3.50 monster is drawing fans from all five boroughs.

Some fun facts:

* Last year, over 720 million packages of hot dogs were sold in retail stores in the U.S. (excluding Wal-Mart, which does not report sales data) -- that's over $1.68 billion spent on hot dogs!

* Over 21 million franks were sold in ballparks last season alone.

* Last year, New Yorkers spent more money on hot dogs ($105 million) than any other market in the country.

* Hot dogs are included as an item at the Vatican snack bar.

Check out the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council for more than you ever needed to know about hot dogs... they even have a YouTube channel devoted to franks, including a video on hot dog etiquette.
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