During a recent lunch trip to Urban Hotdog Co., my friend and I considered the large menu placard next to the counter with a mix of awe and bewilderment.
We had been raised to believe that hot dog fixings were limited to mustard, ketchup and relish, yet there before us were 23 versions, a number that balloons when you throw in options such as bratwurst, turkey franks, Polish sausage and bison franks. You can lose the bun and get your hot dog wrapped in lettuce or thin-sliced potatoes. There are even a few non-hot dog items on the menu, including sliders, grilled cheese and fish and chips.
What makes choosing doubly difficult is that all of them sound good, from a relleno dog made with panko-crusted hot dog bits topped with chile con queso to a South Carolina version with bourbon barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
Unfortunately, you must pick and choose, unless you have the stomach capacity of Joey Chestnut, perpetual winner of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Urban Hot Dog Co. opened on the West Side in 2012 amid the sea of stores and shopping centers framed by Coors Bypass, Ellison and Alameda. It also has a mobile kitchen that is towed around to brewpubs such as Boxing Bear in West Downtown and Marble in the Northeast Heights.
The brick-and-mortar location at the corner of a strip mall next to Toltec Brewery is flooded with natural light. In compliance with current COVID-19 restrictions, there are only four tables inside. Several parking spaces outside the entrance have been tented over and populated with a dozen tables to serve as a patio.
According to the man at the counter, the restaurant uses Nathan’s Famous all-beef franks, the same brand that the aforementioned Mr. Chestnut puts away by the dozen every July 4. They’re served in grilled buns that are formed into pockets to keep the fixings from falling out. It’s a largely effective construct; we suffered only a few minor spills at our table.
Inspired by the sounds of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” from the loudspeakers, we ordered the NYC dog ($5.49) with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard. The dog was plump and juicy and finished with a bit of sear on the skin. The condiments added lots of tang and sharpness. My friend, who hails from New Jersey, gave it the stamp of approval.
The Crafty dog ($7.99) topped with housemade macaroni and cheese and chopped bacon was difficult to contain in the bun, especially with the addition of a pile of red and green chile for an extra 99 cents. It’s a successful mix, the classic combination of macaroni and cheese and bacon bringing crunch and creaminess, the chile adding a manageable amount of heat.
There are two chili dogs on the menu. The Real Chile ($5.99) combines green chile with cheddar cheese, while the more traditional Other Chili ($6.29) is served under ground beef and onions. Cheddar is an extra 79 cents. The latter was simple but effective, thanks to the well-seasoned chili and the crunch of the onions.
The Caprese dog ($7.99) took the elements of the familiar salad and matched them with a Guinness-soaked bratwurst. A balsamic glaze brought sweet, sharp life to the mix of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil atop a bratwurst that was a little dry, perhaps because it had been split down the middle.
The dessert menu features deep-fried mini PB&Js (two for $5.50) served sliced in half and blasted with powdered sugar. It’s the kind of guilty pleasure you’d expect to stumble upon at the state fair. The jelly and peanut butter, warmed by the fryer, ooze out of the crunchy shell. Even though I was full at this point, I found myself taking one bite, and then another, until it was all gone.
If you’re itching for a beer with your hot dog, Urban Hotdog sells locally crafted brews in cans or bottles. Wine and hard cider are also available.
I’ve already got ideas for my next visit. Maybe the Rising Sun with wasabi-lime mayonnaise, seaweed and pickled ginger. Or the Bahn Mi. Or maybe keep it light and try the purportedly tasty beet salad. Urban Hotdog Co.’s variety and thoughtful preparation whet your appetite for more.
On the side
4410 Wyoming NE, 299-6973, theacrerestaurant.com
For meat eaters, vegetarian dining can seem like a penitential act, something to be suffered through in search of a healthier diet that’s less harmful to the environment.
I’ve returned from a recent meal at The Acre to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way.
The menu, described as “comfort vegetarian,” inventively swaps out the meats central to some familiar dishes for vegetables and fruit. A starter of barbecued pulled-jackfruit sliders ($10), for instance, uses a large, spiny fruit native to India whose unripe flesh mirrors the texture of pulled pork.
The “Favorites” portion of the menu, consisting of six dishes served with a side for $10-$13, epitomizes the theme of the place. Comfort dogs (two for $10) are made with whole carrots trimmed in the shape of a hot dog and marinated in a spice mix. Striped with grill marks and served under a pile of relish, they look and smell like hot dogs. The texture of the carrots landed almost perfectly between crunchy and mushy. Even without the snapping casing or juicy fat, they made for a passable impression of meatbased hot dogs.
The Acre is a reminder that vegetarian dining need not entail compromise. Chances are even devoted meat eaters will leave the place satisfied.
— Richard S. Dargan